Ravens linebackers Terrell Suggs, left, and Elvis Dumervil,… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
On the Carolina Panthers' first play from the line of scrimmage, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs blew by left tackle Byron Bell and wrapped up quarterback Cam Newton like a bundle of hay.
Suggs didn't get the sack, but Newton's pass was hurried and fell incomplete. For the rest of the game Suggs was either in Newton's face or in his head.
So was fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and defensive end-outside linebacker turned nose guard Pernell McPhee. For the first time all season, the Ravens kept consistent pressure on a quarterback as Newton left M&T Bank Stadium grimacing and with a limp.
The Ravens had just two sacks, but they hit Newton seven more times and forced him to move countless others. No one will mistake the Ravens' pass rush for being feared in the NFL yet, but maybe this was a start.
The Ravens did it with three- and four-man fronts.
"I'm not sure how much we blitzed on third down, I don't think it was a ton," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "We were kind of leaning toward a four-man rush in this game and give those guys a chance to get off the ball and go get the quarterback. It seemed like we did well with it.
"It seemed like Elvis got some good edge rushes. And when the tackles got back there deep enough with him, he power rushed them back into the quarterback. I thought we got good pressure inside, too. You have to with Cam. But, he made some really great throws with guys in his face."
It's going to be that type of season for Newton. He doesn't have a sound running game and a legitimate No. 1 receiver. In four games, he has already been sacked 9.5 times because his tackles — Bell and Nate Chandler, play so poorly that they truly are offensive.
The game plan for the Ravens Sunday appeared simple. They wanted to get pressure with four linemen and at the same time keep Newton in the pocket. If he did escape, the Ravens would have a shot to at least contain him or force him off the edge quickly.
They won their individual matchups. Both Dumervil and Suggs used a combination of power and speed while end Chris Canty worked the leverage game with his long torso and long arms. The Ravens also pushed McPhee inside to nose guard, where he took advantage of slower guards and center.
"They are kind of interchangeable, a little bit, I think," Harbaugh said. "So, he [McPhee] is a great athlete, we need to get him on the field more. For him to get in there and rush the passer, especially over guards and centers, is a good thing for us."
Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams also played major roles. They helped shut down Carolina's running game as the Panthers rushed 26 times for 67 yards. When faced with passing situations, Ngata and Williams wanted to tie up Carolina's interior linemen to leave Suggs and Dumervil one-on-one with Bell and Chandler.
Clearly, those mismatches worked in the Ravens' favor.
"You have to earn the right to rush and bring pressure, and this is the first game where we earned that right," Suggs said. "We had good success in stopping the run and we didn't want to let DeAngelo Williams [Panthers running back] get going. "
Actually, he did on Carolina's first drive as the Panther went from their own 20 to the Ravens' 27-yard line. On third and 18, Dumervil and Suggs had a meeting at Newton's body for a combined sack.
That sack was a 12-yard loss and took Carolina out of field-goal range. That was another tone setter.
"We were able to stop the run and make them one-dimensional," Brandon Williams said. "When you have a quarterback like Newton, that's what you have to do. There really is no other way. If you don't stop the run, it makes him more dangerous."
A pass rush certainly makes the Ravens' secondary better. The group had an average effort Sunday, but Newton was forced to throw quickly several times before his receivers got deep into their routes.
If the Ravens can continue to get pressure with their front four, it will allow their linebackers to get deep drops and flood more players into coverages. As of Sunday afternoon, the pass rush was still a work in progress.
"There's definitely some work that we need to do to improve," Canty said. "We've got to be tied together in some situations a little better. There were some times where they were able to extend the play and get some receivers open, so we want to definitely improve that. But overall, I think there are some positive things on the tape that we can build on moving forward, and I think our team is going in the right direction."
The most important is that both Dumervil and Suggs played well in the same game. That hasn't happened in the last two seasons when they've played together. Both are older players. Both are on the downsides of their careers.
If they could get it together it would be exactly what the Ravens envisioned when they signed Dumervil from Denver — a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
But, it's just one game … something to possibly build on.