Upon further review: Ravens pass rush is a force

Upon further review: Ravens pass rush is a force
November 11, 2013, 10:30 am
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Here’s something the Ravens do better than almost any team in the NFL. They can rush the passer.

That will be extremely important for the Ravens (4-5) as they try to make a playoff run. They can’t count on their offense, particularly their running game. Lately, they can’t even count on the arm of Joe Flacco, who has 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions this season.

However, the Ravens’ pass rush is legit. They have registered at least two sacks in 17 straight games, the longest such streak in the league. The Ravens are tied with the Rams for third in the league in sacks (32), trailing only the Chiefs (36) and the Bills (33). The Ravens are actually second in average sacks per game, because both the Rams and Bills have already played 10 games.

A strong pass rush affects every quarterback. It bothered Andy Dalton of the Bengals, who was sacked five times Sunday and threw three interceptions. Dalton’s 52.2 passer rating was the second lowest of his career.

The Ravens will pack their pass rush in their travel bag to Chicago next weekend, hoping to harass either Jay Cutler or Josh McCown, depending on who plays quarterback for the Bears. There’s little reason to think the Ravens’ pass rush will slack off down the stretch. In fact, it could get better.

Consider that none of the Ravens’ sacks Sunday came from Terrell Suggs. That’s a key to the Ravens’ pass rush. It comes from a variety of sources, which makes it more difficult to stop. Elvis Dumervil was the ring leader Sunday with 2½ sacks, but Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, and DeAngelo Tyson also got a piece of Dalton.

All five of the Ravens’ sacks Sunday came in the second half. Not a coincidence. The Ravens led 17-0 at halftime, a rare occasion this season when they were playing with the lead. That really allowed the Ravens to come after Dalton.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees dialed up a number of blitzes against Dalton on Sunday, and they worked. Some of the most effective blitzes featured cornerback Lardarius Webb coming from the outside. Webb is effective blitzing because he times it well, and rarely tips his hand. Look for the Ravens to use Webb more in that role moving forward.

“Give credit to coach Pees,” Dumervil said. “He had a hell of a scheme dialed up for us, and props to our linebackers coach, Ted Monachino.”

The Ravens secondary played well Sunday, which gave Pees the green light to blitz even more. Webb had his best came of the season, but cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham were also excellent. Blitzing often leaves corners in one-on-one coverage, but the Ravens’ corners have shown recently that they can blanket receivers. Keeping Suggs and Dumervil out of the backfield is hard enough for Ravens’ opponents. But when the Ravens also bring pressure from the defensive line and blitzing corners? That becomes too much for opponents to handle.

“Our one-on-one pass rushes were really excellent,” said coach John Harbaugh. “And then the blitzes were just well-timed. We got some good pressure from our nickel, from our linebackers and our free safeties. Dean did a good job of mixing up all the pressures. What makes that work is the coverage behind the pressure, so you can’t get a quick throw out. Our guys did a real nice job of that.”

So while the Ravens’ offense remains an enigma, their pass rush has become a force. When watching the Ravens on film this week, the pass rush will get the Bears' attention.