Ravens Outside Linebackers Coach Ted Monachino called his group together Saturday night.
He went around to his players and asked if they felt like they thought they had played as well as they could this season.
"He challenged us," outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said.
The group took that challenge to heart and responded with one of the best games of the season.
The Ravens swarmed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan all game and finished with five sacks in the dominating 29-7 victory. McPhee had a pair of sacks. Elvis Dumervil had another two, and Terrell Suggs punctuated the effort with a sack for a safety late in the fourth quarter.
By the time it was done, the Ravens had hit Ryan nine times and the Falcons were never been able to get into any sort of rhythm. It was the kind of game the Ravens expect from a talented group of pass rushers, and they hope it's a sign of things to come.
"We're just getting started," Suggs said. "It just shows what we can do. Everybody has seen how our defense can kind of control games, and that's going to be the standard from now on."
Dumervil delivered the same message, which all started with Monachino's Saturday night speech.
"Monachino came out with a good speech last night and the answer to that is we're just getting started," Dumervil said. "That kind of was the theme of our speech. Good things – great things – are expected from this defense."
The strong effort from the pass rush Sunday was the second game in a row where the group has commanded the line of scrimmage. Last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Ravens sacked quarterback Mike Glennon five times and hit him 15.
The Ravens now have 15 sacks through the first seven games.
"We're dangerous. We're real serious," McPhee said. "We're coming out playing with an attitude. [Defensive Coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job calling the plays and setting us up to get sacks. We're just focused in and trying to play ball."
The pressure from the Ravens started right away in Sunday's contest. Recently activated safety Will Hill delivered a crushing hit on Ryan during Atlanta's second possession, and the onslaught continued from there.
McPhee sacked Ryan on the next series to force a fumble that Dumervil recovered. McPhee got to Ryan again later in the second quarter.
The fourth-year outside linebacker has been one of the Ravens' best defenders throughout the season, and he's a matchup problem for offenses because he moves all over the defensive front. The Ravens will sometimes line him on the edge, and then he can also slide inside to beat interior linemen with his speed.
"He's just dominating on the inside," Suggs said about McPhee. "Whenever you have an outside linebacker that can play all the spots on the front seven, that's a special thing. He's clicking right now."
McPhee's emergence and the hot start to the season by Dumervil has created a competition in the sack race. Dumervil leads the way with seven on the season, and McPhee (4) and Suggs (2.5) are pushing him in that battle.
"All of us are out there trying to eat," McPhee said. "I hope it's me [who wins the sack race]. You know how it is in this game, if you [aren't] selfish then you'll never be great. I also look up to [Dumervil] and [Suggs], but right now I'm being selfish when it comes to the pass rush. I'm trying to win."
Whoever ends up leading the sack race, the Ravens need continued pressure from the group down the stretch. The Ravens have proven to have a dominant defense when the pass rush is getting after the quarterback, and that will be critical starting next week when the Ravens travel to Cincinnati in a key divisional matchup.
The Ravens were unable to sack Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton at all during the first meeting, and that's a number they're focused on changing next Sunday.
"We're 5-2, we had a good game, but we don't want to stop there," Suggs said. "We want to get this thing to kind of snowball and keep going."