Ravens defense is ready to hunt again

November 29, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

The Ravens locker room was nearly deserted the other day when Cory Redding strolled in, looking for some quiet time after meetings.

That didn't happen. A man stuck a microphone in the big defensive end's face.

"Nine sacks against San Francisco," the man said. "Two and a half for you."

Redding smiled like it was Christmas morning and a new Lexus was in the driveway. With a big red bow on top.

"What was it like?" he was asked. "All those sacks."

"Oh, man, it was fun," Redding said. "Just the guys going out there, knowing the whole world was watching on Thanksgiving. Everyone was just feeling it.

"We were just looking at each other in the huddle, going like 'Man, go get a sack! Let's fly around and have fun!' The energy we had was contagious. It just kind of spread real quick like a virus among us. We just went out there and went at it."

Now they try to do it again against the Cleveland Browns Sunday. Maybe not nine sacks again. Nine sacks is special. Nine sacks tied a franchise record.

If you could pull off nine sacks every week, they might as well just give you the "W" and not even play the game. Have both teams go out for pizza instead.

"I've never been part of nine sacks," said Redding, still smiling. "And we could have had 13, 14."

Fourteen sacks — how incredible would that be? Now you're talking the NFL's version of Halley's Comet. Once in a lifetime stuff.

Why, no team in the league has ever recorded more than 12 sacks. And the last team to do that was the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007.

But even if they don't come close to nine sacks, the Ravens will try to get the same kind of pressure Sunday on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy as they got on poor Alex Smith of the 49ers. Smith, he must have felt like he was hit by a road paver when it was all over.

But that's what the Ravens want to do to from here on in. That's what wins games in December and January: relentless — and well-disguised — pressure on the other team's quarterback.

You come at him from everywhere. You batter him. Take the heart out of him. Pretty soon he's hearing footsteps. He's rushing his passes. His receivers don't have time to get open.

As the game goes on, you can see the uncertainty on the faces of the offensive linemen across from you. You can smell the confusion in their huddle.

But for you and your defensive teammates, it's just pure fun. It's New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo all rolled into one. You're just pinning your ears back and playing Kill the Quarterback.

"It's a race to see who gets there," said Paul Kruger, the Ravens third-down pass-rush specialist. "And whoever does get there, everyone's happy for them."

There's a lot of happiness going around. Through 11 games, the Ravens have an NFL-best 38 sacks. They're on pace to finish with 55 this season, which would more than double their sack total from last season (27.)

Terrell Suggs, their all-time sacks leader with 77, has nine this year. He got to Smith three times Thanksgiving night. Haloti Ngata has five sacks. Kruger has 4.5. Pernell McPhee has 4. Redding has 3.5. Jarret Johnson has 2.5. Ray Lewis has 2.

Kruger, in fact, has been re-born as a pass rusher after two disappointing seasons spent mainly running with the scout team in practice. The scout team — the Ravens might as well have sent him to the Australian Outback. The scout team was no fun.

"I think it's hard for some people," Kruger said. "I think I took (being on) it the wrong way. I think I assumed it meant I wasn't a good player, I wasn't going to play and all that kind of stuff.

"I'm a competitive guy, I'm prideful, I have weaknesses like that. So it was hard for me to be out there and not competing like I knew I could."

But that's all changed now. Now Kruger's having the time of his life. So are Suggs and Ngata and Redding and everyone else on this sack-happy Ravens defense. And they want to keep the good times going, get after Colt McCoy Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Maybe go for 14 sacks this time.

"You got guys that made those big plays (last) week," Kruger said. "And you think they don't want to do it again this week? They don't think: 'Oh, I did it once. We got really lucky and I got a couple a sacks.'

"These guys all think they're super-heroes in their heads, just like me. So they believe they can do it every week. That's what makes good teams who they are."

What is it Ray Lewis always tells the Ravens defense? Hunt, hunt, hunt? They put Alex Smith on the wall last week. Sunday they go after another trophy.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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