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Film Study Session: Pernell McPhee

The Ravens hope McPhee can bring pass rush from all over

Pernell McPhee is returning to Baltimore, where he played well enough to earn himself a five-year, $40 million dollar contract in 2016 with the Chicago Bears. Fans commonly then referred to Za’Darius Smith as “the next Pernell McPhee” because both wore the number 90, both had long dreadlocks, and both rushed the passer using somewhat similar moves. McPhee, however, was much more of a stalwart as an edge setter against the run.

Even though McPhee ended up on his rear end, he turned the play back inside, and set the edge. He has been notorious for these types of big collisions, as well as his “heavy hands” throughout his career. Knee and shoulder injuries have derailed McPhee’s once promising career. The Super Bowl champion had his left knee operated on following the 2015 season.

The journeyman had surgery to repair a torn labrum in the winter of 2016. He played with the Washington Redskins last season. He didn’t look quite like the Pernell McPhee Baltimore grew to love while the Ravens went 40-24 during his tenure. McPhee can still play, though.

What McPhee will bring to the Ravens is experience and leadership. If he’s able to provide insight to Jaylon Ferguson, Matt Judon and Tyus Bowser it won’t hurt. McPhee has some damn good moves, and sets them up well.

McPhee at his best brought explosion and attacks blockers with power, with a touch of finesse. He mainly uses clubs and rips to batter lineman. He also throws in hand swipes and swims to vary his bull rush. His momentum is difficult to stop once it starts. He’s also been surprisingly nimble when his moves throw offensive lineman off balance, or if they overextend themselves.

If a blocker gives McPhee space, he likes to use a jab step to get them moving in one direction, and often uses it to attack their inside shoulder. This forces the lineman to try to stop McPhee’s full momentum, while off balance, and try to alter his path with only one half of his available frame. His strength with rip or club moves allow him to easily beat them, then deliver massive blows to the passer. He always keeps his shoulders square to his target to maximize strength and leverage.

McPhee also does a great job keeping his shoulders in front of his knees when rushing, creating maximum force and momentum. Often times lineman will stab him in the chest plate, but hardly stop him from gaining ground. Once they’ve extended themselves stabbing at his chest, he can then counter to swipe, club, swim or rip past their shoulder. He then seals his hip and feet around one side of their body. Once that happens, it’s game over.

I don’t anticipate McPhee bringing the same level of juice he brought during his first stint in Baltimore, but he provides much needed depth to a young front-seven. His ability to set the edge with powerful hands remains, and he can be a dependable edge setter in early downs. His ability to play all along the defensive line, whether its at the nine-tech or standing over the A-gap, will present interior or outside pass rush ability.

McPhee also brings leadership to the table, as he was a team captain in Chicago and played with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and company in his early Baltimore years. He has an old-school mentality, and plays like it. He has his teammates backs.

If McPhee can give the Ravens 300-400 snaps in base downs, set the edge when asked, and generate interior pressure, he is an absolute steal late in free agency. I wouldn’t expect him to set the world on fire, but experience is valuable in the locker room. Showing young pass rushers how to study, how to set offensive lineman up early in the game to beat them late and any other added wisdom is a bonus. McPhee has played with Hall of Fame players and the Ravens other defensive addition of the day, Shane Ray, has as well. They both have Super Bowl Rings and have learned from some all time greats. Having these two in your locker room can’t hurt.

The signing reminds me of when the Ravens signed Trevor Pryce back in 2006. Pryce was coming off of a couple of injury riddled, disappointing seasons with the Broncos, and was 31 years old. The Ravens were able to reinvigorate Pryce’s career, and he posted 13 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 23 QB hits in 2006. The Ravens have a history of getting the most out of free agents brought on the defensive side of the ball, and hopefully they can do the same thing with Pernell McPhee.