The Baltimore Ravens defense sits at first overall against the run, and second in total defense. This years team brought back memories of dominant defenses of years past, defenses headlined by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. This year however, the star power of the defense is not at linebacker and not on the back end; instead, it is on the defensive line. Now, with outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil back in action, the defensive line becomes even better.
The elite performance of the Ravens defensive front is easily seen through their numbers against the run, allowing just 74.9 rushing yards per game and being the only team to disrupt the Dallas Cowboys top rushing attack. It’s not just the run defense however, the Ravens defensive front amassed gaudy numbers against both the run and pass.
Since the Ravens Week 10 contest against the Cleveland Browns, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has played at an otherworldly level, totaling three strip sacks in just as many games. Suggs is up to eight sacks on the year, but has been strong against the run as well from the edge, with two stuffs to this point. With Suggs coming from the outside, and the emerging defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who is second on the team with five sacks, opposing quarterbacks have been under a lot of pressure this season, pressure that has come quickly. It speaks volumes Jernigan is creating such pressure as an interior lineman.
Even when Suggs and Jernigan have not gotten to the quarterback, the pressure they have created has forced quick decisions by quarterbacks, and many times, those quick decisions have worked in favor of Baltimore. The Ravens turnovers have been up dramatically from last year, as the Ravens sit in the top five of the NFL in interceptions, interceptions that can be attributed to pressure forcing bad decisions.
Against the run, nose tackle Brandon Williams, Jernigan and others have clogged up running lanes in the middle, forcing running backs to hesitate and cut outside, where Ravens linebackers are able to catch up and finish off the play. As a result, linebacker Zach Orr currently sits at 99 total tackles, putting him in the top 10 of the NFL.
Aside from the old guard, the Ravens have seen rookies step into big rolls, solidifying the depth of the defensive front with future stars. Outside linebacker Matt Judon and defensive tackle Michael Pierce have been among the most promising of the bunch. In Week 12 against the Bengals, Judon blocked two passes on the Bengals final drive of the game, in addition to the Ravens two other knocked down passes on that same drive. Throughout the season, Judon has played well subbing at outside linebacker for Suggs or Za’Darius Smith, he has even gotten a few chances to start. Judon has three sacks on the year, as well as a fumble recovery.
Pierce earned a spot on the Ravens roster with his strong performance in the Ravens final game of the preseason, highlighted by a strip sack of quarterback Luke McCown, Pierce would recover his own forced fumble in the end zone for a Ravens touchdown. In the regular season, Pierce has 26 total tackles, seven of which being stuffs, three sacks, and a batted down pass.
What makes the potential of the defensive line even greater is the return of Elvis Dumervil. It truly is a luxury to have a team whose defensive front is already among the best in the NFL, and then insert a Pro-Bowl outside linebacker back into the lineup. Dumervil’s presence was immediately felt on Sunday against the Bengals. Dumervil recovered a fumble off of a bad Bengals snap, and had a one sack in the game.
The duo of Suggs and Dumervil off the edges is arguably the most dynamic and prolific in the NFL, and they will have to continue to play at the top of their game. The pressure the two can create, even if they don’t sack the quarterback, is enough to help the rest of the defense, as the opposing offense will make mistakes. With Suggs and Dumervil at full health, the Ravens will look to rekindle the pass rushing dominance of 2014 that carried the Ravens to the playoffs, and it will be needed to help the Ravens make the playoffs again in 2016.