Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun
August 4, 2012
The Ravens suffered the biggest injury of the offseason and preseason when outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, tore his right Achilles tendon while working out in Arizona. Gone are his double-digit sack total, his ability to set the edge against the run, and the swagger that he brings to the huddle. That's the main reason why some pigskin pundits are predicting that the Ravens defense will Fall So Hard on its face this season.
To make matters worse, second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw has had a sluggish start to his professional career and he apparently re-injured his right shoulder in Thursday night's loss.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw three touchdown passes, and on each play he had about four seconds to scan the field before finding an open receiver. He was not sacked, though I've got to mention that the Rams played most of their starters while the Ravens did not. Still, in their four preseason games, the Ravens recorded just six sacks (one each by six different players), including three in the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Before you start typing in the comments section that it was just the preseason, give me another minute here.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has kept things vanilla in the preseason because that's what coaches who aren't named Steve Spurrier wisely do. There were whispers, warranted or not, about how much control Pees had over the defense while he was with Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, and his philosophies may have changed since then, so we don't really know how his schemes, blitzes and coverages will compare to the chaos that Chuck Pagano took with him to Indianapolis. My belief is that Pees will stay aggressive, and he might have to.
My concern with the pass rush this preseason wasn't the schemes. It's that none of the players expected to fill in for Suggs while he attempts to make a late-season comeback consistently beat their man or men this preseason. Upshaw recorded a sack against the Jaguars and Albert McClellan had one against the Atlanta Falcons. But Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle haven't really touched the quarterback, unless you count Kindle's second-quarter takedown of Bradford two seconds after the quarterback threw the ball Thursday, which drew a costly roughing-the-passer penalty.
Maybe I'm reading too much into a few exhibition games here, but I already felt that it would take a team effort and some clever scheming by Pees to make up for the loss of Suggs, who had 14 of their 48 sacks in 2011. The preseason just affirmed that feeling. I can't see any one player hitting double-digit sacks, but if Kruger and defensive end Pernell McPhee can bump up their 2011 sack totals slightly, if the Ravens can get something from Upshaw and anything from Kindle, and if we often see defensive backs slamming into quarterbacks ¿ well, that's a lot of ifs.
A few Ravens defensive backs have said they have the NFL's best secondary. They will get a chance to prove it nearly every week, as the Ravens play 11 former Pro Bowl quarterbacks this season. It will be hard to back up that talk if those quarterbacks get four seconds to pick them apart.