The most feared aspect of the Ravens’ rebuilt defense has been a consistent pass rush that ranks among the NFL’s best.
With Elvis Dumervil slotting opposite of Terrell Suggs, Baltimore has one of the league’s most effective edge tandems, which has the team tied for third in the NFL with 32 sacks through nine games. Suggs has nine sacks, bouncing back effectively from an injury-plagued 2012 that saw him appear in just eight games. Dumervil has added 8.5 sacks in his first season with the Ravens, putting him on pace for 15, which would be the second-highest total of his career.
Their combined 17.5 sacks makes them the third-most prolific duo in the league this season.
Suggs and Dumervil have been more humble about their success at taking down the quarterback. Dumervil won’t take much personal credit.
“It’s good coverage. You’ve got guys taking care of their job,” Dumervil said. “It takes a lot to get a sack. Everybody’s got to do their responsibilities - our guys pushing the pocket, good coverage allow you those one-on-ones.”
The success of the rush extends beyond the first nine games of this season, as Baltimore has recorded at least two sacks in 17 straight games for the league’s longest active streak and the second-longest since 1990.
“They’ve been amazing all year. They just need to continue doing what they’re doing,” cornerback Corey Graham said. “They’ve been pretty consistent the whole season.”
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has seen the pressure on the quarterback improving as the year goes on.
“I just think the guys are getting more familiar with the calls, whether it be a pressure or whether it be a rush,” he said. “And the more they get used to it, I think the better they become.”
And the Ravens will need that to continue Sunday in Chicago.
Baltimore is up against the eighth-ranked passing attack in the NFL, which has been keyed by the league’s most dynamic pair of wideouts - Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Marshall and Jeffery have combined for 1,521 receiving yards, coming up with 60 and 47 catches, respectively. And they pose a unique physical challenge with Marshall at 6-foot-4, 230 lbs. and Jeffery at 6-foot-3, 216 lbs.
“They’re a tough matchup on anybody’s defense,” Pees said. “You’ve got two of them. They are big, they are physical. The thing about both of them that is just so impressive is that (Jay) Cutler - now it will be (Josh) McCown - if they throw the ball close to them, these guys have a chance of getting it. They’re not afraid to throw it up even though you’re covered. You can watch the film and say, ‘They have got good coverage on this guy,’ but it doesn’t really matter. These guys can go up and get the ball. That is the biggest problem that you face with them. When it comes down to a situation of one-on-one back there, they are tough to handle.”
The Ravens will have difficulty covering such a talented pair, but they can make up for it by disrupting the quarterback’s rhythm with pressure in the backfield.
The Ravens won’t have to face Cutler after the Chicago starting quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain Sunday.
But they don’t get much of a break with backup McCown playing well in relief this season. McCown has completed 60 percent of his passes for 538 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in three games (one start).
“He’s been around this league for a long time. He’s definitely a capable quarterback,” Suggs said of McCown. “He can control the game, and they trust him and think they’ve got a fair shot with him. So we’re going to have at it on Sunday.”
Also Sunday, Graham will be returning to the city he played his first five seasons in the NFL. Graham, a Bears fifth-round pick in 2007, played his first 77 career games in Chicago, mostly as a special teams ace.
Now he returns as a key member of the Ravens defense.
“When you go back somewhere that you used to play, there’s always a little something a little extra. There always is,” Graham said. “Obviously, they’ve got a different coaching staff, so that makes it a little different, but as far as getting the opportunity to go play in Chicago, it means a lot to me. I was there for five years and I had five good years, but now I’m here and I look forward to going back there and showing them what I’ve got.”
As will the Ravens as a whole. Baltimore began the process of getting on track last week with an overtime win over the Bengals. Now the Ravens will be looking to win their second straight to get back to .500.
“I came here to try to win a championship. We’re 4-5, so we’ve got to get that going,” Dumervil said.