When Terrell Suggs was announced to his fourth pro bowl this Winter, we rolled our eyes a bit – not because he didn’t deserve it, but because he was selected as a linebacker. While it’s important to note the small issue of his position designation, it’s more important to note just how good of a football player that Suggs really is.
Best known for his pass rushing – especially fitting after the 17 sacks he earned in 2010 (including playoffs) – his ability as a run stopper should not be overlooked. He was one of five defensive ends awarded +15.0 ratings in both run defense and pass rushing, with Justin Smith, Trent Cole, Julius Peppers, and Charles Johnson being the other four.
His teammates Ray Lewis and Ed Reed have larger reputations and are both on the path to Canton, but the Ravens would not be in the position they are as serious contenders every year if it wasn’t for his outstanding play.
The Position Problem
At Pro Football Focus, on any given snap, we define defensive linemen as someone who has their hand on the ground when the ball is snapped. Using this definition, 54% of Suggs snaps came as a defensive end when there were four defensive linemen, and another 23% came as a defensive end with just three or fewer defensive linemen.
On the other hand, he lined up 17% as an outside linebacker when there were four linebackers, and just 4% of his time came as a linebacker with three linebackers or less on the field. If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that those percentages don’t add up to 100 – the rest of his playing time came in odd snaps as a defensive tackle, middle linebacker, or linebacker playing in the slot.
Suggs played as a defensive end three times as much as he played outside linebacker.
However, while we strongly believe he should be considered a defensive end, there is one aspect of his play that is more linebacker-like. Typically, defensive linemen are substituted in and out of games to keep them fresh or to take advantage of a situation. Top linebackers, on the other hand, often play every down or close to it. Suggs played in 98.3% of the Ravens’ defensive snaps this year.
Great Pass Rushing
While his pass rush rating is good, it’s not among the best in the league. He has, though, performed very well against some of the best pass blockers in the NFL.
In the Ravens’ first game against the Bengals, Suggs had two hits while Andrew Whitworth was blocking him. Whitworth owned the second-best pass block rating of all tackles, and that was one of his worst games. Ryan Clady of the Broncos was a top five left tackle for the in pass blocking last year, and Suggs had two pressures on him. The Jets’ Damien Woody was an above average pass blocker last season, and Suggs got a sack and hit in what was arguably Woody’s worst game of the season.
Something that makes Suggs unique is that nearly half of his overall pressures result in hits or sacks. While he doesn’t rank too high on the overall pressures list, he was second in the league of all defensive ends in his combined number of sacks and hits. His 31 was behind only Jason Babin of the Titans.
What is also important to note about Suggs’ pass rushing is the value he gives to the Ravens. One third of the overall pressures brought by Baltimore in 2010 came from Suggs, making him by far the most impactful pass rusher on the team.
A Raven’s Run Stopper
When you think of the Ravens’ defense, you think of their play against the run. Players that usually come to mind are Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata. Outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson should be added to that list, as should Terrell Suggs.
The majority of defensive ends are strong in one area of the game but not the other, Suggs, however is dominant in both aspects. His 42 regular season stops ranked him eighth among all defensive linemen in 2010. Even in the times Suggs had to defend the pass he had a positive rating, another reason he is trusted as an every down player.
His Finest Hours
Over the past three years, the Ravens have played in seven playoff games. In those games, Suggs has a cumulative overall rating of +17.0. In his two games this year alone, he had five sacks, three hits, six pressures and seven stops – incredible in back-to-back games against strong teams.
In the regular season, two of the Ravens’ biggest games of the year come against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. A Steelers weakness is their offensive line, helping to make Suggs that much more of a difference-maker. In their two regular season match-ups, he had three sacks, four hits and three pressures. He also had strong run D ratings in both, giving him a total grade of +11.5 over the two games.
When the pressure is on Terrell Suggs, Suggs brings the pressure on opposing offenses.
It’s hard to imagine that Suggs has already played eight years in the league but is still only 28. It will be interesting to see when he begins to wear down.
While players like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Matt Birk on offense and Cory Redding, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed on defense might not have many years left in the tank, the Ravens’ have been built to last. They have a number of young players who are either still growing or are now reaching their prime. Most of the older players already have high draft picks in line behind them. Assuming Suggs can keep up his play for a number of years, he should continue to have opportunities to get his Super Bowl ring.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke … and our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus