How will the Ravens try to defend Aaron Rodgers?
Terrell Suggs is off to another Defensive Player of the Year-type start, with seven sacks and 36 tackles in five games. Elvis Dumervil has three sacks. Together, as expected, those two anchor a tenacious Ravens pass rush that has registered 19 sacks -- the highest total ever by the Ravens through the first five games of a season.
But there's another player who hasn't generated as many headlines yet deserves much of the credit for the Ravens' defensive renaissance this year: second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
"Upshaw does a lot of things behind the scenes that may not get caught by the media or the fans," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said at his weekly media session on Thursday, "but he’ll set some things up for these other guys that are very, very good.”
Upshaw, the Ravens first pick in the 2012 draft (No. 35 overall), is listed as an "either/or" starter with Dumervil at one outside linebacker spot. Upshaw tends to be in the lineup in run situations, with Dumervil taking over when the Ravens want to dial up the pass rush.
But Pees noted that Upshaw, whom Pees called a "typical Alabama guy" -- has the versatility to play multiple spots.
"You can play him anywhere, whether or not it’s the best thing for him physically to play out of position, but you can move him all over the place," Pees said.
"You can just do some things with him because he’s such an intelligent football player," he added.
Upshaw has 10 tackles through five games and recorded his first sack of the season at Miami.
"He does the dirty work," Dumervil said. "He knocks the tight ends around, he sets the edges for us, and that's important. Whenever you want to be a good run defense, you got to be able to set that edge and allow the runners to stay within the confines of the defense, and he's one of the best in the league who does it."
With Upshaw controlling the edge, runners are forced back inside toward players such as Haloti Ngata or Daryl Smith.
The Ravens ranked 20th against the run last season, and thus far this year they rank sixth, allowing 89.8 yards a game. There are several reasons why the Ravens defense has stiffened this year, including the addition of Dumervil, Smith and Chris Canty, as well as the All Pro-level that Suggs has been playing at. But the play of Upshaw has been a factor as well.
"Football makes sense to him, and I just can’t say enough good things about him," Pees said. "I think this guy is kind of unheralded in some ways because some other guys overshadow him. And that’s OK, because those guys deserve it, too. Courtney Upshaw does a lot for our defense.”