Freelancing Pernell McPhee Is Feasting


The Ravens have a bounty of outside linebackers at their disposal.

So what has Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees done to account for it?

He's letting the Ravens' dogs off the chain, and it's giving outside linebacker Pernell McPhee a chance to feast.

"Coach gives us the opportunity to freelance; he gave it to us this year," McPhee said.

"It's awesome. It's like playing backyard football right now. The stats don't show for me, but if you watch the film, you'll see how I'm in the backfield."

McPhee has yet to record a sack this year, but is rated as the sixth-best outside linebacker in the NFL so far by Pro Football Focus (PFF). He has a plus-8.0 rating through four games.

He's got company. Teammate Terrell Suggs is PFF's top-rated outside linebacker (plus-15.3) and the No. 9-rated outside linebacker, Elvis Dumervil (plus-6.4), also suits up in purple and black.

Thus, with a crowded group, the Ravens are trying to get McPhee on the field however they can.

Sunday against the Panthers, McPhee lined up wide as an outside linebacker. He lined up with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end. He stood as a rush linebacker standing on the line of scrimmage. He even played with his hand in the dirt lined up over center as if he was a nose tackle.

McPhee logged just one tackle, but he had a much bigger impact than the box score shows. He was credited with one quarterback hit and five quarterback hurries by PFF.

"You can put Pernell [McPhee] anywhere, and he's going to get pressure," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We have two pretty good guys coming off the edge, so you want Pernell on the field."

Pees said McPhee is able to play effectively in so many places because of his smarts.

"We're blessed with a bunch of intelligent football players – he being one of them," Pees said. "They don't memorize what you tell them to do. They understand what you're trying to do."

McPhee is a sort of super sub.

He opens up more for Dumervil and Suggs. McPhee is sometimes asked to do the dirty work setting picks and taking out blockers to try to creating pass-rush lanes.

McPhee also helps them stay fresh. He played a season-high 47 of the defense's 69 snaps. Suggs, who dealt with an ankle injury last week, played 37 snaps, and Dumervil played 42. Fellow outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw played 37.

This summer, McPhee said he wanted to lead the team in sacks. He said he wasn't going to work into the linebacker rotation, but rather was going to "go take something." He took the most snaps on Sunday.

"Our depth is immaculate, I like to say," Suggs said. "Pernell has been playing phenomenally. He's been playing phenomenal since he got here. He's dealt with little nicks and bruises, but now he's getting on the field a lot, and we like that."

McPhee said he's living his credo of the three H's: healthy, hungry and humble.

This was the first offseason in which McPhee didn't have surgery since he first came into the league. He fought through ailments and still played in 16 games last season, making 21 tackles and notching two sacks. He's been looking to get back to his rookie numbers, when he recorded six sacks.

That year, McPhee was coached by Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who was serving as the Ravens defensive coordinator. Pagano had plenty of good things to say about his former pupil.

"It's hard enough taking care of the guys that start the game. When they bring in guys like Pernell that is fresh and is a buzz saw – he's like a rolling ball of butcher knives," Pagano said. "We're fully going to make sure our guys are aware of where he's at at all times when he's on the football field."

McPhee is looking forward to having another strong performance against his former coach.

"He gave me my name," McPhee said. "I have nothing but respect for him. I'm going to go out there and show that when he drafted me as a defensive coordinator, he didn't make no mistake. I'm still the same."

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