Pernell McPhee Has Become Ravens Best Pass Rusher


December 9, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens defensive end Pernell McPhee (90) lines up against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Highly paid superstars Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs get the headlines, but its Pernell McPhee who has become the most consistent and deadly pass rusher on the Baltimore Ravens.

McPhee doesn’t rack up gaudy sack totals the way Dumervil and Suggs do, but rather, he generates pressure on almost every play that goes unnoted in the stat sheet.

Two words sum up McPhee’s skill set, versatile and relentless.

Let’s start with versatile. McPhee was used in every single front-seven position in Sunday’s loss to the Colts alone. Standing up as an outside linebacker, hand in the dirt as a five-tech defensive end or a three-tech defensive tackle or even standing up as a blitzing inside linebacker, McPhee has done it all this season.

Opposing offenses have made locating him a priority, as the Colts often double-teamed McPhee.

So far, McPhee looks most effective as a three-tech defensive tackle, usually paired with Haloti Ngata on the inside and Dumervil and Suggs rushing from the outside. McPhee and Ngata do a tremendous job of pushing the pocket, keeping opposing quarterbacks from moving within the pocket and allowing either Dumervil or Suggs to finish the play.

And that brings us to that second descriptor, relentless. McPhee gets after the passer like his hair is on fire. His hand usage is not always precise, but his hands are always moving, making him difficult for any blocker to get a handle on.

This, paired with his strength and leverage, make McPhee a terror to block. He is consistently lower than the opposing blocker, be it a lineman or tight end. He hasn’t quite displayed the ability to consistently beat double teams yet, but very few pass rushers do.

The physical skills are clearly there for McPhee. His transformation from a pure five-tech defensive end to the versatile terror he is now has been remarkable and was keyed by his consistently improving speed and quickness. McPhee was always athletic, but now he is explosive as well.

His sack of Andrew Luck Sunday proved as much. McPhee, standing between the center and the guard, exploded off the snap, used a quick rip move to beat the Colts’ right guard and pursued the very athletic Luck for the sack. This was a great play by an emerging player.

Ignore McPhee’s stats. He only has six tackles and a single sack, shockingly low numbers for the impact he has had on the Ravens pass rush.

Part of the reason his sack total is so low is because the Ravens defensive backs give up such quick completions. Opposing quarterbacks are able to get rid of the ball almost immediately, so it’s no wonder the Ravens’ pass rush hasn’t been productive in terms of sacks.

For a number that better describes McPhee’s skill as a pass rusher, look to his total pressures. In just 85 total snaps in which he rushed the passer, McPhee has racked up 15 total pressures according to Pro Football Focus (subscription needed). A pass rushers job is to create player, and McPhee has created more pressure than anyone on the Ravens’ defense.

As the Ravens’ secondary improves, and it is improving, the defense’s sack totals will improve as well. When that happens, McPhee should start racking up the sacks that will get him more headlines. For now, he will have to settle for being a quietly cruciel piece of a quality defense.