Pryce, Suggs coming at opponents from all angles

ON THE RAVENS

November 28, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was so happy that he couldn't hide his joy. When discussing the team's top free-agent acquisition of the offseason, he let his opinion slip out.

"It was Trevor Pryce," Ryan said of the defensive end. "Without question, he has been a huge addition to this team."

But, then, upon further review: "All right, all right, it's Steve McNair. But if he is 1, then Pryce is 1A."

Pryce has started to emerge on one side, and end-outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is dominating on the other. It's a good sign for the Ravens, because in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, they got steady pressure on a quarterback with a four-man rush for the first time this season. When that happens, that's an indication of a great defense.

It couldn't have come at a better time. The Ravens play against quarterback Carson Palmer and pass-happy Cincinnati on Thursday night at a time when the Bengals are starting to play well. You can blitz a lot of teams in the quarterback-deprived NFL and get away with it, but against Palmer you have to mix coverages.

In the playoffs, the Ravens might have to face quality quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. They'll have to drop six or seven players into coverage. But it's a comfort now knowing you can get pressure with your front four, in particular Pryce and Suggs.

"Ooh, they bring it," Ryan said yesterday.

Ask Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Suggs sacked him twice and hurried him seven other times, according to Ryan after watching game film. Pryce also had two sacks and hurried Roethlisberger five times. Among Suggs, Pryce and outside linebacker Bart Scott, there seemed to be a race to see who could get to Roethlisberger the fastest.

The problem for most teams, as the Steelers found out, is that Suggs and Pryce can come from anywhere. Pryce plays at end on most running downs, but the Ravens move him inside to tackle on passing situations. Suggs is at end or at outside linebacker. He might stay outside or come inside on a loop. The Ravens have even lined them up next to each other, creating another problem.

Which one do you double-team and which one do you single-block? Pryce has 47 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks this season, while Suggs has 54 and six.

It's understandable why Suggs is having such a strong season. He's in his fourth season, and that's a year when it's all supposed to come together. Pryce, meanwhile, is supposed to be on the final journey of a 10-year career, each of his previous nine with the Denver Broncos. He had surgery to relieve a herniated disc in his lower back in 2004, and word out of Denver was that he played about only 14 strong plays a game. Even Ryan had some doubts.

"It didn't seem like it was a good move when we signed him," Ryan said of Pryce, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract in March. "We had just lost our young starter, Anthony Weaver, who signed with another team. Now we're bringing in a guy who had major back surgery and was long on the tooth to replace him. No one could imagine that it would turn out this well."

Pryce wasn't impressive in training camp. He was lethargic and looked totally confused. The Ravens had him at tackle, and then end. He was even dropping into coverage, which he never did with Denver. But early in the season, Pryce started to find his comfort zone. He has six sacks in the past five games.

Pryce looks very deceiving for a defensive lineman. He isn't overly bulky or extremely cut, but lean and athletic. He has quick, strong hands, and knows how to finish off a play.

"You have to account for him," Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "He's a tall, lanky guy who can run and get off the pass and also play the run. He just brought some leadership to this team."

Suggs is energy personified. He has a nonstop motor. As a matter of fact, that may have been his problem the first two years. Because the Ravens move him around so much, he tried to pace himself during games. Now, it's just all-out passion and drive.

He had a habit of disappearing during games against quality players, but that has changed. Suggs has great quickness and a lethal first step. But he is more than just a speed rusher. He can change direction and has great strength in his arms to throw blockers. He almost bull-rushed Pittsburgh offensive tackle Marvel Smith into Roethlisberger, and Smith is one of the best left tackles in the league.

The job won't get any easier for Pryce and Suggs this week. If left tackle Levi Jones returns from an injured knee to play for the Bengals, he would be flanked by guards Eric Steinbach and Bobbie Williams, center Rich Braham and right tackle Willie Anderson.

"We've got a huge challenge before us with Cincinnati," Ryan said.

But in the past few weeks, the overall challenge has gotten easier. It was extremely easy Sunday because of Pryce and Suggs, who have become quite a 1-2 punch.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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