Ravens see potent sack attack in Boulware-Suggs combination

October 27, 2003|By Mike Preston

THE RAVENS GOT a glimpse of the future, and they see it filled with nothing but doom -- for opposing quarterbacks. Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs. Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware. When the Ravens get a lead and need to keep constant pressure on the quarterback, they believe they have a deadly combination.

"Oh, my, when those two finally get it together, when they start jelling, it's going to be scary," Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis said of Suggs and Boulware, both outside linebackers.

"It's going to be hell," said Ravens right offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "When you have two guys with speed, strength and power coming off the edge, as an offensive lineman, you don't want to see that combination. I'm just glad they're on my team."

Denver Broncos quarterback Danny Kanell got to see Suggs and Boulware extremely up close yesterday. The Ravens controlled Denver's offense, and once they established a nice lead in the fourth quarter, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan turned Suggs and Boulware loose on Kanell.

Boulware recorded two sacks, his first of the season, in the Ravens' 26-6 win. Suggs didn't get credit for any, even though he combined with Boulware for one sack late in the game, but they had several races to the quarterback.

Kanell was bounced around like a pingpong ball. He had to wish injured starter Jake Plummer was here. Well, so did Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who has joined the Tennessee Titans' Jeff Fisher as Brian Billick's whipping boys.

The Ravens have owned the Broncos and their soft, powder-puff offense. Even when the Ravens weren't sacking Kanell, they were causing the Broncos to jump offside because of their speed off the perimeter. Boulware and Suggs often arrived at the same time, Suggs hitting him high, Boulware swooping the ankles. Worse yet, the Broncos couldn't decide which one to double team.

Do you take out the Pro Bowl player, Boulware, or the rookie, the team's No. 1 draft pick in April and one of college football's greatest pass rushers?

"Anytime you can get Terrell in the game right now is a plus for us," Nolan said. "He is slowly maturing, making plays. It was nice today to see that Peter got the sack. It's been frustrating for him. He has been around [the quarterback] a lot but hasn't gotten one. Anytime they get in at the same time is a good thing for us."

If that happens, that means the Ravens have a lead or have put the opposition in a long passing situation. The Ravens wanted more of those situations this season. A year ago, they didn't have a pass rusher to complement Boulware after defensive end Michael McCrary went down with a knee injury.

They selected Suggs with the No. 10 overall pick. Suggs hasn't developed as quickly as the Ravens anticipated, forcing Boulware to often be double teamed. A common question among fans this season has been: Where is Peter Boulware?

"Hey, I got a sack; it must be a full moon out," said Boulware, laughing. "Boy, it felt great to finally get one. I'm a rhythm guy, a player who likes to set up moves. For one of the few times this year, we got a lead and I had five or six straight chances to go up field, set some things up.

"I've always had pride in myself, pride in getting to the quarterback. When I wasn't getting there, I felt like I wasn't earning my money. It was frustrating."

Boulware could have complained or lashed out at critics. Instead, he just kept playing hard. What some didn't realize was Boulware was having one of his strongest seasons against the run. He was still fourth on the team in tackles with 24.

One of the people who admired him most was Lewis.

"That's the beautiful thing about Pete," Lewis said. "He handled his business. He didn't have the sacks, but he was still taking on those double teams, running down ball carriers from the backside and trying to jar the ball loose. We all knew his time would come. He is proven."

Suggs wants to become as established. He has the same physical gifts as Boulware, except he has a larger frame and a more explosive first step. But Boulware acted like a mature veteran when the Ravens drafted him No. 1 in 1997. Suggs is still silly and immature. He missed meetings and scheduled events when he first came to town. He should have been in better shape when he reported to training camp.

The biggest problem, though, was learning the defense and playing pass coverage, which Suggs didn't have to do at Arizona State. To make things as simple as possible, the Ravens didn't overload him. They issued simple marching orders, the same ones given to former Baltimore Colts defensive end Bubba Smith: Kill, Terrell, kill.

Suggs has four sacks this season, but he didn't have to work hard for two of them. One came off a busted play. But the Ravens see the talent -- the quick burst, the ability to stop and change direction instantly, his relentlessness to get to the quarterback and the surprising power.

The Ravens have surrounded Suggs with good leadership. If he develops as a full-time starter, the Ravens' defensive play could reach another level. It has to if the Ravens are going to become a bona fide playoff contender. Offensively, the Ravens aren't going to get much better this season.

The Ravens are what they have always been since 1999: offensively challenged. But defensively, a suspect secondary could improve if the Ravens could get more pressure on the quarterback. For the first time this season, the Ravens got it from Boulware and Suggs.

Maybe the future has arrived. Now, if they can keep it up, the Ravens might be on to something special with this duo.

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