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Pass Rush Is Ravens' Best Friend

Posted Oct 10, 2013

The Ravens have 19 sacks this season, the most they've ever had at this point of the season.

Jimmy Smith could not help but smile when asked about the Ravens’ pass rush.

The cornerback knows that the big guys in front of him have been wreaking havoc on opposing offenses all season, and that has made life much easier on the secondary.

“It’s like our best friend right now,” Smith said with a grin across his face.

The Ravens pass rush has been stellar all year, registering 19 sacks from the first five games. That number ranks second in the NFL, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (21), and is the most sacks the Ravens have ever had at this point of any season.

“It’s heaven for defensive backs because we’re just waiting for the ball to fly out,” Smith said. “We’re running with our backs down to the ball and you hear big cheers that we just got a sack. They’re doing really good right now.”

Leading the charge as a pass rusher has been Terrell Suggs, who is garnering talk as an early season Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The 11-year veteran took over in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the Dolphins by notching three sacks, which brought his season total to seven.

But it’s not just Suggs getting after the quarterback.

The Ravens have nine different players with a sack. Elvis Dumervil has thrived as a pass rusher and has three sacks. Chris Canty and Arthur Jones both have two sacks, Daryl Smith has 1.5, and Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee both got their first sacks of the season last week.

The Ravens can get after quarterbacks from a variety of packages, which is exactly what they envisioned when they added Dumervil, Canty, Smith and defensive lineman Marcus Spears this offseason.

“The pass rush, I would say, has been what we had hoped for,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Of course, we feel like we can continue to improve on that.”

Part of the effort to help the pass rush has been a heavy rotation used for the linemen and outside linebackers. Rather than playing Pro Bowlers like Suggs, Dumervil or Haloti Ngata for every defensive snap, they routinely rotate packages based on the situation.

Sometimes the Ravens will have a run stuffing lineup with Ngata, Spears, Brandon Williams and Terrence Cody. Then they can switch it out with a group of pass rushers like Suggs, Dumervil, McPhee, Upshaw and Canty.

“That’s huge,” Dumervil said. “I still feel good.  It’s a long season, but not every team has the luxury we have to rotate guys and get guys an equal amount of reps. When Week 9, Week 10 comes, and guys start to feel the season, I think it’s going to pay dividends for us.”

The group will get a test this week against the Green Bay Packers, who have allowed quarterback Aaron Rodgers to get sacked just 11 times.  Rodgers is known for having a quick release that makes it difficult to get to him in the backfield, and he is one of the best in the NFL at diagnosing opposing defenses.

“Pass rush is going to be a big part of [containing Rodgers],” Harbaugh said. “We need to just get the pressure on him and keep him in there. We’ll have a plan for that.”

While the pass rush has been a strong point for the Ravens this year, Suggs has hesitated to make any sweeping statements about the group’s early success.

“It’s just five games,” Suggs said. “We have a great expectation for this team. You can’t be satisfied after five games with what you’ve done.

“I think we still have some work to do and we can always get better. We’re going to continue to try and do that.”

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