How many times this season have we come out of a game talking about how well the Ravens’ pass rushers performed?
That group has had a monster season, recording 48 regular-season sacks (tied for the third-most in the NFL), forcing 21 fumbles (most in the league) and putting great pressure on opposing quarterbacks seemingly every time out.
Yesterday, it was the Ravens’ secondary which carried them to a win.
With the front seven providing minimal pressure on rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, the secondary stepped up, nabbing three key interceptions - which resulted in 10 points - and holding Yates to less than 50 percent passing and a quarterback rating of just 28.8.
“They played phenomenal,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said of the secondary. “We didn’t get any balls thrown over our heads, and when we did, we got to them and touched the ball. We dropped a few picks, but we also caught a few picks. Like I said, they did play phenomenal, but they’ve been playing phenomenal all year. When you look at it, our sack totals are because the back end has played so great. You can’t take anything from them. Tip your hat off to the secondary.”
While Yates was making just his seventh career start, he had a dangerous group of receivers to work with.
Andre Johnson is without question one of the top three receivers in the league, and while he caught eight passes for 111 yards, Johnson didn’t have a reception longer than 19 yards all day, indicating how well he was covered deep down the field. Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels had just two catches for 26 yards, Kevin Walter made just two receptions despite being targeted eight times and running back Arian Foster - a dangerous threat in the passing game - was limited to 22 yards on five grabs.
It was a group effort in the secondary, but a lot of the credit goes to cornerback Lardarius Webb and safety Ed Reed, who combined for all three Ravens interceptions and eight passes defensed.
“We were just playing ball out there, communicating today and everybody knew exactly what we were doing,” Webb said. “We weren’t perfect out there today, but I think we did good enough to get the W. So we have to go back and correct some things, but turnovers were big today.”
On the other side of the coin, the Ravens’ pass rush was nearly nonexistent yesterday, which is surprising given the way their front seven was all over then-starting quarterback Matt Schaub back when the Texans came to Baltimore in Week 6. That afternoon, the Ravens had four sacks and hit Schaub five times.
Yesterday, despite talking all week about how they wanted to try and rattle Yates, Baltimore didn’t have a single sack and recorded just two quarterback hits all day. I noticed the Ravens run a few more three-man rushes than normal, but even when they brought five or six guys to the quarterback, those guys up front were unable to get home.
“They got the ball out pretty quick most of the time,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “It was a great game plan for them. They know Yates is a rookie and they probably protected him a little bit with getting the ball out quick. They also did very well with play action. They did a great job of adjusting and changing up the plays on us.”
Suggs is in the mix for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Ngata and Cory Redding elevated their pass rush skills this season, and even little-known younger players like Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger got in on the sack attack. That group was a big reason why the Ravens were able to go 12-4 and win the AFC North title this season.
But as they now turn their attention to the Patriots and Tom Brady, the Ravens know they can’t have another game without a sack and just two quarterback hits. Suggs, Ngata and the others were invisible for much of yesterday’s game, but they have to step their game up and make Brady uncomfortable in the pocket next week for the Ravens to have any chance of advancing to Indianapolis.
“We’re playing against a phenomenal player, we’re playing against a phenomenal team,” Suggs said. “You can’t make that many mistakes, or else they’re going to expose you.”