Justin Houston is at the top of his game, and opposing quarterbacks are paying for it.
Becoming the first player in Ravens history with three straight multi-sack games, Houston sparkled on Monday Night Football with 2.5 sacks and an interception during Baltimore's 27-13 victory over the Saints. It continued a superb season for Houston who leads the Ravens with 8.5 sacks in just six games, despite missing three games with a groin injury.
At age 33, Houston doesn't seem to be aging. The veteran outside linebacker is applying all the technique and knowledge he has accumulated over a stellar 12-year career to torment quarterbacks, rewarding the Ravens for re-signing him during the offseason.
"I was actually thinking about retiring," Houston said. "Me and my wife took a vacation and I turned my phone off. I just prayed and I prayed, and I literally heard God say, 'Give me all of you, and I will give you your desires.' I told my wife, 'Listen, I'm going to be all in this season.'"
Houston now has 110.5 career sacks, but this was one of his finest games. He was the catalyst for that generated on quarterback Andy Dalton, sacking him four times as Houston's teammates followed his lead. Since joining the Ravens last season, Houston has been a mentor to many young players, and his teammates loved seeing a respected teammate flourish.
"It's just inspiring to be in the room with a guy like that," outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said. "It was impressive to see. He told me this summer when he was working out in Georgia that he was really tapped in, in terms of this year and what he really wanted for himself. You see it obviously. I don't know what it is, but I'm trying to get whatever he's got."
The tone was set in the first quarter, when Houston's first sack on a third-down play ended a New Orleans drive. Patrick Queen blitzed on the play which collapsed the pocket and provided a free lane for Houston to tackle Dalton.
Houston's next sack came in the third quarter, and it nearly created a turnover. He put a punishing hit on Dalton as he stepped up in the pocket, and the ball came out of his grasp a split second after he hit the ground. The officials correctly ruled that it wasn't a fumble, but Houston's second sack was in the books.
The pounding of Dalton continued early in the fourth quarter when Calais Campbell and Houston shared a sack, as the pocket collapsed around the Saints quarterback.
Houston got his first interception since 2018 in the fourth quarter, when Brent Urban batted a pass attempt by Dalton into the air and Houston corralled the deflected pass.
Baltimore's pass rush could become even more ferocious as the season progresses. Tyus Bowser, who led Baltimore with 7.0 sacks in 2021 before suffering an Achilles injury, played his first game of the season against the Saints and got a quarterback hit. Second-round outside linebacker David Ojabo (Achilles) was inactive against the Saints, but is practicing and close to being ready for his season debut. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who is an excellent blitzer, made five tackles in his Ravens debut, playing his first game since being traded to Baltimore.
However, Houston was the defensive star against the Saints, showing a national television audience that he still has plenty left in the tank. Smith and Houston both played college football at Georgia, and Smith loved watching Houston take the spotlight.
"It was amazing," Smith said. "I've been watching that guy for a while since I was young, with him at Georgia, and then him being in Kansas City. I'm excited to be a teammate with that guy, and there's just going to be so many great things in store."