Skip to main content

Ravens Boast Four Top-Rated Outside Linebackers


Watching film of the Ravens, Head Coach Marvin Lewis' eyes fall on the outside linebackers.

"I don't know if I've ever seen four guys like that on one football team – I know I haven't," Lewis said.

Lewis said all four Ravens outside linebackers are playing at a Pro Bowl level: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw.

Lewis isn't just praising the group because he's trying to flatter his upcoming opponent. The analysis and game tape backs it up.

The Ravens can make a strong argument for having the best single position group in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus, three of the top five outside linebackers in the league wear purple and black.

Suggs is the top-rated outside linebacker in a 3-4 system (19.6). Dumervil is third at 15.6 and McPhee is fifth at 15.2. Upshaw comes in at No. 31; he's never been a player that draws rave reviews from outsiders. However, opposing coaches and players, know his value.

There are a bunch of great duos across the NFL, but nobody has a single position that can compare to the Ravens* *outside linebackers.

"The four of them can make more plays on accident than a lot of people can make on purpose," Ravens Linebackers Coach Ted Monachino said. "We've got four rare dudes there."

The fearsome foursome was on full display last weekend against the Atlanta Falcons. They tormented quarterback Matt Ryan, and essentially took over the game. McPhee and Dumervil each notched two sacks. Suggs put the cherry on top with his first career safety late in the fourth quarter.

What makes them so great together is that they're all different.

"We have a lot of guys with dominant traits," outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "We do what we do well."

Suggs is the leader because he does everything. Monachino called him "the best linebacker in football."

"There are some guys that have a single dominant trait, and there are some guys that are way above average in more than one," Monachino said. "Then there are the rare ones like Terrell Suggs that are an elite run stopper, an elite pass rusher and an elite under coverage player."

Lewis had high praise for the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, as well. Suggs only has 2.5 sacks through six games, but he does a lot more than just bring the quarterback down.

"Obviously Terrell, since the 2003 season, has just been a fine, great, great player, as he reminds me every time we play him – both by telling me and his play," Lewis said with a laugh.

The player who's primary job is to sack the quarterback is Dumervil. The Ravens signed him last offseason and told him they would help him elongate his career by simply hunting the quarterback.

Dumervil is training to do more in the demanding system, but Baltimore mostly lets him simply do what he does best. He leads the Ravens with seven sacks, tied for second-most in the league.

"He still knows that when he puts his hand down, he's a different animal than the rest of [the Ravens outside linebackers]," Monachino said.

The man who allows Elvis to be Elvis is Upshaw. Upshaw does a lot of the grunt work for the defense, similar to what Jarret Johnson unselfishly did in Baltimore for years.

The Ravens' top draft pick in 2012, Upshaw is used whenever there are two or fewer receivers on the field. Thus, he often starts ahead of Dumervil when opponents are looking to establish the run early on.

"He has the combination of size, length, strength, and I think you want to keep his football IQ toward the top of the list," Monachino said. "The things that Courtney is asked to do, he never blinks, and he does them at a very efficient level nearly every snap he's in the game."

Last but not least is the newcomer to the list, and perhaps the biggest wild card of them all – McPhee. After being hampered by injuries the past two years, McPhee is having his finest season yet. He has four sacks and is drawing just as many – if not more – double teams as Suggs and Dumervil.

McPhee is taking on and beating centers, guards and tackles as he lines up all over Baltimore's defensive formation. His raw athleticism allows him to win a lot of different matchups.

"His dominance happens inside the two tackles whereas the other three, their dominance happens outside the two tackles," Monachino said. "He's a rugged, tough, smart football player that we can do a lot of things with. He's hard to handle."

Since they all have a specific role, the Ravens are able to rotate their outside linebackers, or use them at the same time. Baltimore often has three outside linebackers on the field with McPhee inside.

Against Carolina, the Ravens had a snap count that's very rarely seen at the position. McPhee led the unit with 42 snaps, Dumervil had 40, Suggs had 36 and Upshaw had 35.

The players don't even consult Monachino when going in and out of the game. They know certain packages they're used in, but they handle substitutions themselves.

"That never happens," Monachino said. "There's no drop-off in our depth."

In the meeting rooms, Monachino said there's not a coach-to-player or player-to-coach dialogue. There's just dialogue, like they're all just talking football and fixing problems that arise before anybody else even knows there is* *an issue.

"Ted is just a really good technical coach. He coaches the [crap] out of us – in the classroom and on the field," Dumervil said. "And every day we come to work, we have guys that are mature enough to accept the coaching."

There's always a fun race to get the sacks. But with so many quality outside linebackers, the competition is ramped up a notch.

When McPhee got the Ravens' first sack on Sunday, Suggs asked what move he used on his blocker. When Dumervil got one later, Suggs tossed him to the ground in celebration. Finally, the leader got his at the end with the safety.

"We're unselfish, but we're selfish when the ball is snapped. We want to get there first," Dumervil said. "But at the end of the day, we're like brothers and everybody knows their role."

So do the Ravens indeed have the NFL's best position group?

The challengers are Denver's wide receivers of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker, Jets' defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, Buffalo's defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

"Not being in 31 other position rooms, I wouldn't trade my four for any four out there," Monachino said.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content