Asked about the potential of the Ravens’ pass rush this season, outside linebacker Matt Judon broke into a huge smile.
The Ravens already have 12 sacks in three preseason games. A lasting image from Monday night’s victory was Ravens all-time sack leader Terrell Suggs chasing down Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and tackling him from behind.
The Ravens bench went wild after the Suggs sack, as he sprinted off the field. Suggs, who will turn 36 years old in October, remains the leader of the Ravens’ sack crew. But this season, Suggs’ pass rushing buddies plan to give him plenty of help.
“I think our pass rush is legit, man,” Judon said. “We’ve got the guys for the job. Sizz [Suggs] is one of the greatest, a Hall of Famer. We just need to piggy back off him, do the little things it takes as pass rushers.”
While sacks don’t always measure the impact of a pass rush, getting pressure on the quarterback is never bad for a defense. Five of the NFL’s top six teams in sacks made the playoffs last season – Pittsburgh (56), Jacksonville (55), Carolina (50), the Los Angeles Rams (48) and Tennessee (43). Only the Los Angeles Chargers (43) did not.
The Ravens tied for 11th in the NFL with 41 sacks in 2017 and would love to break the 50-sack barrier this season. For that to happen, it will take a group effort. The past two seasons, Suggs has led the Ravens in sacks, finishing three ahead of Judon (11 and 8) last season, and four sacks ahead of Judon (8 and 4) in 2016.
Judon believes the Ravens have multiple players capable of reaching double digits in sacks, such as himself, Tim Williams, and Za’Darius Smith. In fact, Judon says there is friendly competition among the Ravens’ pass rushers,[comma] who want to challenge Suggs for the team’s sack title.
“We joke about it, but we’re serious about it,” Judon said. “The NFL is all about competition. He’s one of the greatest pass rushers in the league, but we’re all trying to get past him.”
The preseason can be misleading, with opponents doing far less game planning than they will during the regular season. But the Ravens have shown the ability to pressure quarterbacks without having to blitz. If that carries into the regular season, the Ravens will give Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale more options.
“I think any defensive coordinator will tell you, if you only have to rush four and play coverage – that’s good living right there,” Martindale said.
Eight Ravens have at least one sack during the preseason – Williams, Suggs, Judon, Smith, Zach Sieler, Bennett Jackson, Kamalei Correa, and Tyus Bowser.
Smith has logged 10 sacks in three seasons, including 3 ½ last year. He came close to a lot more, as he was tied for the fifth-most quarterback hits among NFL outside linebackers (12) – the same amount as Denver All-Pro Von Miller, per Pro Football Focus.
Correa is a 2016 second-round pick who has looked more explosive since moving back to outside linebacker, especially in the Hall of Fame game when he notched three sacks. Bowser is a 2017 second-round pick who had three sacks last year and got his first of the preseason in Indianapolis after working through an injury.
However, Williams looks like the Raven with the potential to make the biggest leap as a pass rusher. In his second season, the RUSH outside linebacker is playing faster and with more confidence, and arrived at camp in the best shape of his career. Teammates have noticed.
“He was about 10 pounds overweight when he got here, and he wasn’t as quick,” Smith said of Williams. “But everyone can see it now. This guy is special. He’s pass rushing like he’s supposed to be.”
The Ravens’ linebackers still defer to Suggs in the meeting room, as he remains a mentor for young pass rushers.
“I’m glad I got to come here and learn from him,” Judon said. “I just try to absorb everything he has to offer. He’s a great guy to be around, loves the game. He’s a little kid in his 16h year. Kudos to what he’s done, and to what he’s done to teach us young guys.”
Asked what advice Suggs has given Judon, he turned jokingly defensive.
“I can’t let you in on the secret sauce to the Krabby Patties,” said Judon, who must be a ‘SpongeBob Square Pants’ fan. “I don’t know why you want me to spill the beans.
“My rush is different than Sizz’s, Sizz’s is different than Tim’s, and so forth. The biggest difference between college and this level is the tackles are older, they’ve seen more stuff. They’ve seen my moves once or twice. The quarterbacks are faster. And they get the ball out faster. You have to study offensive linemen more, know what they’re going to throw at you. Some guys use their hands more than others. Guys fake moves. It’s like a boxing match. You have to be ready to counter.”
Regardless of what the sack numbers say, the Ravens’ pass rushers want to do whatever it takes to win.
“I want us to dominate,” Smith said. “Getting sacks is one thing. But my job is to help get us to a Super Bowl.”
Getting to the quarterback can help a team reach the playoffs. And the Ravens believe they have the pass rushers to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.