While sensational rookie Kenny Young was involved in the most tackles, Terrell Suggs led the team in sacks and Patrick Onwuasor had the only interception in the Ravens win over the Broncos, fourth-year linebacker Za’Darius Smith proved pivotal in disrupting Denver’s quarterback Case Keenum.
Drafted in the fourth round out of Kentucky, Smith has started in just nine of the 45 games he has played in during his tenure with Baltimore. Though he did not get the start against Denver, he made his presence known, leading the team with four quarterback hits, doubling his total on the season.
Keenum was hit five times in each of his first two games against the Seahawks and the Raiders, both victories. However, in Week 3, he was taken down nine times, with Smith accounting for over 44.44 percent of those hits.
On Sunday, Keenum was sacked three times for a loss of 19 yards, whereas he was only sacked twice through the first two weeks of the season. Smith was responsible for one of those sacks, his second on the year. With Denver leading 14-10 with 1:32 left in the first quarter, Smith sacked Keenum for a seven yard loss on 3rd & 2, forcing a punt.
In 2017, Smith recorded just 3.5 sacks over the course of 14 games. At his current pace, he is well positioned to exceed his career-high of 5.5 sacks from his rookie season in 2015.
Smith will have a chance to build on his strong performance in prime time, when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for Sunday Night Football in Week 4. If he can get to Ben Roethlisberger and make an impact in one of the game’s most hard hitting rivalries, Smith may finally fully emerge out of the shadow of his teammates.