Sack totals back on track

Carson Palmer's going to start for the Raiders on Sunday despite not playing organized football in 10 months and having just five days of practice under his belt with his new team?

Raiders coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Al Saunders must really love the job Kyle Boller has done in Oakland. Or not.

When the Ravens opened training camp this summer, the coaches kicked off one of the first defensive meetings by writing a giant number 27 on a white board.

" 'What's that number represent, fellas?' " defensive end Cory Redding recalls the coaches asking.

The answer was the number of sacks Baltimore's defense had recorded during the entire 2010 season, the lowest total in franchise history.

From the early stages of training camp, the Ravens have emphasized the fact that they wanted to get more pressure on the quarterback. It was a focus in drills and film study, and that aggressive mentality has certainly showed in the play-calling of new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

Haloti_Ngata-tall-hit-Jets.jpgThrough the season's first five games, the Ravens have been successful in their quest to get after the quarterback. They've posted 15 sacks, putting them on pace for a whopping 48 for the season and making it entirely possible that they reach the 27 sack mark - last year's total - by the halfway point of this season.

"We want to be the top at everything," Redding said. "That's just how this unit rolls. We want to be top-five in every category, preferably top-three. And we weren't in that category (last year). Our guys took that to heart. One of the first things that we did when we walked in this building was put the number up on the board - 27 - and circle it as big as we could.

"So, enough said. That's how important it is to get that number up."

According to players, the success of the Ravens' pass rush can be separated into two parts - on-field performance and coaching.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs again has led the way up front, recording four sacks and demanding almost-constant double teams. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata continues to improve as a pass rusher and has two sacks of his own on the season, while veterans like Jarret Johnson, Ray Lewis and Redding have also gotten after the quarterback. Throw in the contributions of a couple rising players like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee (who I wrote about yesterday), and you've got a balanced front.

Pagano's aggressive play-calling and detailed coaching from defensive line coach Clarence Brooks and outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino have also been huge factors in the increased sack totals.

The go-for-the-throat mentality of Pagano has been appreciated by the guys on the Ravens' defense, and they've gotten help along the way from their positional coaches, who multiple players have credited with helping focus on the finer points of how to bolster the pass rush.

"Our scheme is mixing up a lot of four-man stuff and pressures and simulated pressure and guys are winning one-on-one battles," Johnson said. "Part of the scheme we run is taking our big guys, our rushers, and putting them in areas to draw attention and then dropping back."

"I just think there's been an emphasis on it," Kruger said. "When you point out something like that, and with the type of guys we have here, there's no reason we can't turn it around."

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