TALE OF THE TAPE: An Extended Break for “Ball So Hard University?”

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Back in October, I wrote about how Terrell Suggs was finally back to 2011 form.

Unfortunately, since then, things haven’t been so great for “Sizzle.”

After the Miami game in early October, Suggs had seven sacks through five games and was looking just as good as he did in 2011 when he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Following a lost 2012 season in which Suggs played the whole second half of the season out of shape, he came into 2013 in shape and reloaded.

That translated to plenty of on-field success to start the year. After his three-sack performance against the Dolphins, it looked like Suggs had a legitimate shot at eclipsing his career-high 14.0 sacks from 2011. In fact, through five games, Suggs was right on pace with Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5 sacks in one season.

But over the past two months, Suggs has experienced a steady and concerning decline. As a pass rusher, he’s been nearly nonexistent in many games despite playing against lesser competition.

As a run defender, he’s had his flashes, but his effort in run defense in previous weeks has been concerning as well. Unless he has injury that nobody knows about, he is without a doubt putting forth less effort than he was earlier in the season.

Based on the offensive tackles he has faced since the Miami game, he should have continued to build on his season sack total. But since then, he has notched just two sacks, with his last one coming on November 4 against the Cleveland Browns.

He is still a threat to put pressure on the quarterback without actually getting a sack, but even in that category, his performance isn’t what it should be.

With the Ravens vying for a playoff spot, the defense will be the key to overcome a struggling offense. So far, the defense has succeeded in November and December without much impact from Suggs.

But if Suggs can find a way to play like he did in September to complement Baltimore’s already dominant defense, it could play a large role in whether or not the Ravens will be playing in January this season.

Let’s take a look at where Suggs has struggled in recent weeks.

On Reggie Bush’s rushing touchdown on the Detroit Lions’ opening drive on Monday night, Suggs’ inability to seal off the edge in run defense proved to be the nail in the coffin on the play.

After linebacker Josh Bynes unsuccessfully tries to break up the run play inside, Bush follows his blocks to the outside, where he is one-on-one with Suggs.

Of course, Bush is one of the fastest running backs in the NFL, but with Suggs being the team’s best edge-setter, there’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be able to make this stop.

Instead, he offers a diving attempt at Bush and fails to lay a hand on him.

Not exactly vintage “Sizzle” right there.

Another way Suggs has struggled in run defense is via decision-making.

On a Joique Bell run to the outside, Suggs crashes in before Bell even receives the handoff.

Now, Suggs may have been directed to this, and maybe he didn’t just willingly crash on the play. However, given how often Suggs has done this over the past two years, it’s easier to lean toward the move being his choice, not the play calling.

Considering the fact that left linebacker Jameel McClain is out on an island to stop the play, why would Suggs crash inside here?

In a result that should surprise nobody, McClain was sealed off by the fullback, and cornerback Jimmy Smith had to make the tackle.

As a pass rusher, Suggs’ effort could be questioned as well. In no game was this more obvious than when the Ravens played the Chicago Bears on November 17.

Going up against left tackle Jermon Bushrod, Suggs should have had the advantage. Instead, he was M.I.A. all day long.

One of his struggles as a rusher has been his unwillingness to go after linemen off the snap. Instead, he has been hesitant, which has resulted in poor positioning.

With Josh McCown – not exactly the most threatening running quarterback – at QB, containing the signal-caller on the ground was unlikely one of the defense’s main goals. Instead, going right at him would have been the best way to slow down the Chicago offense.

But the way Suggs played, it almost looked as if he was playing contain, even though fellow outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil didn’t play that way, making Suggs’ choice of tactics even more questionable.

Here’s an example.

Off the snap, Suggs is on an island with Bushrod. Attacking right at him would have disrupted the pass play, with McCown toward Suggs’ side of the line.

Dumervil dips his shoulder and head into right tackle Jordan Mills, making at least some impact on the play.

Suggs goes into Bushrod straight on, getting almost no leverage.

Pass-rush plays like that one were commonplace for Suggs against Chicago, as well as against the Detroit. He’s had better games outside of the two mentioned, but as a whole, his performance in the second half of the season is alarming.

It has been quite some time since Suggs made a consistent impact in any game, and if the Ravens want to defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday, Suggs will have to make his presence felt. Otherwise, the advantage goes to Tom Brady and Co.

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