Jarret Johnson is stiff-armed by Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
Whenever there has been talk about the Ravens' lack of a pass rush, strong-side outside linebacker Jarret Johnson has taken it personally.
The Ravens have gotten a strong season from outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has collapsed the pocket up the middle, but there hasn't been much contribution from the other side, or anywhere else for that matter.
That has changed in the past two weeks.
Johnson, in his eighth season out of Alabama, was second on the team in tackles with 10 in the Ravens' 17-10 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. He didn't have a sack, but he was in quarterback Josh Freeman's face all afternoon.
Maybe Johnson is on to something.
"When I hear about our pass rush, I'm the one who feels he has to improve," Johnson said. "It's personal. I feel as though I'm the one who needs to pick it up."
Johnson has quietly had another strong season, grading high in almost every game this season, but unlike the previous two years, there aren't many big plays. That in itself is not surprising because as a strong-side linebacker, Johnson has to play over the tight end and drop into coverage.
It's a different role compared with that of Suggs, who has the glitter job of going after the quarterback and piling up sacks. But when the Ravens play nickel coverage using five defensive backs, then Johnson is turned loose just as Suggs is.
"It's been kind of a weird season," said Johnson, who is seventh on the team in tackles with 47. "I've graded out pretty high most of the time, gotten a lot of pluses. But it's been a quiet year as far as big plays. I've gotten close to hurries, close to sacks, but never gotten a sack.
"Overall, I'm not unhappy with the way I played, but I just wished I could have contributed more as a pass rusher," Johnson said.
A lot of people have forgotten that Johnson had shoulder surgery to repair his labrum in April. He had his arm in a sling for six weeks and reported to training camp 20 pounds under his 265-pound playing weight because he couldn't train and lift weights.
Johnson also had constant back spasms earlier in the season. They are still a problem, but not as painful as they were months ago.
"When I usually start to prepare for the season in the offseason, I couldn't because I couldn't lift weights," Johnson said. "I usually come into camp around 265 and leave at 260 to get ready for the season. I wasn't as strong as I used to be."
"But right now, I'm healthier than I usually am at this time of the season because the shoulder isn't banged up, and the back spasms are going away," Johnson said.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said: "Jarret has been really consistent and had a really strong season. We may have moved him around a little as far as getting pressures [on Tampa Bay], but I just think he is healthier now than in previous years."
The Ravens need Johnson as a pass rusher, especially heading into the stretch run of December. The Ravens will face quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Drew Brees during the next three weeks.
Johnson said the Ravens got good preparation for Roethlisberger by facing Freeman on Sunday. Freeman is 6 feet 6 and weighs 248 pounds.
"He plays like Ben, a big, physical quarterback who kind of swats at you when you try to sack him," Johnson said. "Like Ben, he runs to throw instead of just running."
The Ravens played well against Tampa Bay. They held the Buccaneers to 263 yards of total offense, and just one substantial drive. The Buccaneers were six of 16 on third-down conversions. Against Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Ravens face a team with a patched-up offensive line.
"I don't know why we're so inconsistent, which is the opposite of the way we've been for a long time," Johnson said. "I know we have to become more consistent in our communication, technique and play within the structure of our defense.
"Right now, we're 8-3 and have yet to play a complete game, which in a little way isn't a bad thing," he said. "All you can do is go into December with the opportunity to play for something. We all have to step it up. I know I have to. I have to improve as a pass rusher in this stretch."
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.