Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs talks about the teams overall performance in a 29-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan barely had a moment to protect himself and the football. Ryan hunched over at the last second as Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs barreled up the middle to crash into him for a safety.
Suggs went unblocked late in the fourth quarter, looping inside on a stunt while the Falcons' blockers slid over to account for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. It marked the Ravens' fifth sack during a 29-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and the ninth time they would hit Ryan.
The Ravens recorded five sacks for the second consecutive game, the first time they've done so since December 2006. And they've registered 24 quarterback hits over the past two games, including 15 last week during a 48-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"We're dangerous, and we're real serious," outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "We're coming out playing with an attitude. Our back end needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks."
Between Suggs, McPhee and Elvis Dumervil, the outside linebackers combined for five sacks and seven of the Ravens' nine quarterback hits. Dumervil and McPhee had two sacks apiece. For the season, Dumervil leads the Ravens with seven sacks followed by four for McPhee. The trio of outside linebackers have provided a challenge for blockers lately.
"Yes, it's very tough, anytime you have a number of guys rushing at the level they're rushing at," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "[Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino and inside linebackers coach Don "Wink" Martindale] are doing a great job teaching those guys how to rush the passer in various situations, and it has paid off for us."
The outside linebackers' competitiveness even spilled over to the sideline when Suggs and Dumervil got into a brief, animated discussion by the bench area after Suggs got the safety one play after Dumervil nearly tackled Ryan in the end zone. Order was quickly restored as teammates calmed down Dumervil.
"I hope it's me," McPhee said with a laugh when asked who'll win the sack competition. "You know how it is with this gig. If you are never selfish, you'll never be great. Right now, I'm selfish when it comes to pass rush."
Suggs' safety was the eighth in franchise history, the first since Jameel McClain had one in 2008 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"It just shows what we can do," Suggs said. "It's on film now and everybody is seeing how our defense can control games, and that's going to be the standard from now on."
Because of McPhee's versatility as a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive end at 6-foot-3, 280 pounds, he's proving to be a difficult man to stop.
"He's just dominating on the inside," Suggs said. "Whenever you've got an outside linebacker that can play all the spots on the front seven, that's a special thing. He's clicking right now."
McPhee has at least one sack in three straight games. His sack and forced fumble in the first quarter was recovered by Dumervil.
"I hit him with everything I had, should have finished a little bit more," McPhee said. "I watch film, and I watch my opponents. I just go out and let my technique and my athleticism take over."
The Falcons were at a loss on how to block the outside linebackers. Whether it was blitz pressure, line stunts or simple bull-rushes, the Falcons' disheveled offensive line, which lost center Peter Konz to a knee injury and has a hobbled rookie left tackle in first-round pick Jake Matthews, had no answers for the Ravens' pass rush.
"There were times where we really didn't have a chance to get the play off, and that's very difficult for a quarterback," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They won the line of scrimmage with both their strength and their quickness. They beat us cleanly off the edge, and Matt was under duress with the pass rush."
Ryan completed 29 of 44 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown. The Falcons converted just 4 of 15 third-down situations.
Dumervil has a team-high 3.5 sacks over the past two games. He has at least 1.5 sacks in four different games this season. The last time Dumervil had at least seven sacks in the first seven games to start a season was in 2009 when he had 10 sacks through seven games when he had a career-high 17 sacks for the Denver Broncos.
"We played with a lot of energy," Dumervil said. "The rush, the coverage was good. Those type of things happen, good things happen."
During the second half, the Falcons tried to give their linemen extra assistance through chip-blocking. However, the strategy didn't work as Ryan was sacked twice after halftime.