As the Baltimore Ravens prepare to square off with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, it appears that one of their defensive stars is rounding back into form, and a healthy Terrell Suggs could have a huge impact on this year's big game in New Orleans.
The 10th-year defensive end, who missed eight games this season as the result of a torn Achilles' tendon suffered last spring, has racked up 19 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in three postseason games. Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh recently told Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun that Suggs is just about back to 100 percent.
"We haven't monitored or charted his explosive quotient so far, but he is getting better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he's becoming quicker, faster, more explosive, stronger, all of those things. You can tell that it is healing, and he is just playing more like a normal, 100-percent Terrell Suggs would play. So, what you are seeing is exactly right."
Given that in eight regular season games, Suggs, who is also fighting through a partial tear in his biceps muscle, had only 22 tackles and two sacks, Harbaugh's comments would certainly seem to have merit. That couldn't have come at a better time for the Ravens.
The most obvious area where a healthy Suggs is going to provide a huge boost is in Baltimore's pass rush.
In 2011, with Suggs leading the way with a career-high 14 sacks en route to winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Ravens racked up 48 sacks, third in the National Football League.
In 2012, with Suggs on the shelf for half of the season and severely limited the rest, that number dropped to 37 (15th in the NFL), and that was with linebacker Paul Kruger enjoying a career season.
A return to full health by Suggs doesn't just increase his chances of harassing quarterback Colin Kaepernick either. The healthier Suggs is, the more attention he will command from San Francisco's formidable offensive front.
That opens up more one-on-one opportunities for Kruger, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and the rest of the Ravens front seven, which increases their chances of being able to get in Kaepernick's face.
However, there may well be an even more important facet of the defense where Baltimore is going to need Terrell Suggs to bring his "A" game if the Ravens are going to win Super Bowl XLVII.
One of the keys to defending the read-option offense that the 49ers employ is for the defensive ends (or outside linebackers) to be both disciplined and react quickly to the play as it develops.
Bite on the give to the running back too quickly and Kaepernick will simply keep the ball and exploit a wide-open edge. Get caught flat-footed and there will be gaping holes up the middle and off tackle for running back Frank Gore to run through.
That places a great deal of pressure on Suggs and Kruger to read the play and react in an instant.
Granted, Suggs doesn't have a lot of experience defending the read option, but in 10 years in the National Football League, he's seen more than a few play fakes.
Not only will that experience come in handy, but it's going to be a lot easier for Suggs to chase plays down if he isn't doing so on one good leg.
It's not going to be easy. Since the 49ers inserted Kaepernick into the starting lineup, the offense has gained a new dimension that, coupled with the tough running of Gore and their mauling offensive line, makes them very hard to stop.
It can be done though, and Suggs recently told Larry Hartstein of CBS Sports that he and the Baltimore defense are up to the task.
"Through all our ups and downs, we've stuck together," Suggs said in one typical comment. "We always believed, and we kept our eyes on the prize, and that's what we kept doing."
We'll find out this Sunday night.