Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon came into last Sunday’s matchup with three sacks through 11 games. He would double that total with a three-sack performance against the Oakland Raiders.
“The team needed it,” Judon said. “I went out there and got it done. It could’ve been any one of us, but I’m glad it was me.”
On Judon’s first sack of the afternoon, he stripped Derek Carr — causing a Terrell Suggs fumble recovery for a touchdown. Judon then gave Raiders right tackle Brandon Parker a swim move to get to Carr on the following play from scrimmage. With Oakland at their own 18-yard line, Judon blitzed once again — ripping away from Parker and sacking Carr for the third consecutive time.
“I have confidence in myself,” said Judon when asked if he believed that he could record three straight sacks. “Every time I go our there, I’m thinking I’m getting a sack. When y’all ask, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ I think I can do that. So yes — I thought I could do it.”
As a fifth-round pick in 2016, Judon made an impact out of the gate with four sacks. During the following season, the then-25-year old linebacker doubled his sack total to eight. There were high expectations placed on him coming into the season and deservedly so.
Across from Judon is Terrell Suggs — a 16-year veteran who has a load of experience in getting to the quarterback (131.0 career sacks). According to Judon, Suggs has been instrumental in his development and setting him up for success in the NFL.
“I feel like walking in here with that guy and everything he’s done for me throughout the years that you see on the field. And a lot of stuff that you don’t see is just guidance and somebody that approaches the game every day as it could be his last,” Judon said of Suggs.
“Hopefully, I have about four or five more years with him. He can do this forever, but I’m truly grateful for me being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and him still being here.”
It took Judon until the sixth game of the season to record a full sack against the Tennessee Titans. After waiting two more games, he recorded another one facing off against the Pittsburgh Steelers and another half sack against Cincinnati.
Despite his long road to breaking out in 2018, Judon has stayed positive and continued to maintain his happy-go-lucky attitude while reflecting on his season so far.
“I think that I just wasn’t making those plays as I was last year — coming off of last year — and was trying to ride that wave and things were going differently for me at that time,” Judon said. “For them, they might think that I was pressing and it might look like I was pressing — maybe I was. Maybe I was trying to make those plays and just not being me.”
“But I feel like now I’m making those plays and I’m being me. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, he’s not pressing anymore! He’s just making those plays’ — I just kept going to work.”
Judon points to the interior defensive line play of Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams as the foundation of his success. Though the two haven’t posted impressive individual stats, like sacks or tackles, they have been able to create opportunities for Judon, Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.
“They’re definitely unsung heroes because they’re demanding two [blockers] and when they get two — they’re keeping two. If you watch the film, Pierce and ‘Baby’ [Williams] have some good rushes. They’ve been having some really good rushes and the ball just kind of gets out on them and they’re right there, a step away.
“But those guys are good. Don’t discredit ‘Z’ [Za’Darius Smith]. I think all of his sacks came from the inside. So, we have some really good inside rushers.”
Judon has five more games remaining this season to match or surpass his sack total from 2017. At this time last season, he had 12 sacks. Though Oakland is number five in sacks allowed on the season (36), Atlanta will be a tougher battle, as they are ranked 12th in sacks allowed (33).
They also have a veteran quarterback in Matt Ryan who can make quick strikes to Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley. Ryan is having strong passing season — recording a 71.4% completion rate (a league-high), 3,683 yards (league-high) and 24 touchdowns (seventh-highest). Judon’s pass rushing ability will be needed against the Falcons passing attack.