Is the Ravens' Elvis Dumervil-Terrell Suggs Tandem the NFL's Most Lethal?
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To say the Baltimore Ravens lucked out by snagging unintentional free-agent pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil would be an understatement. After letting outside linebacker Paul Kruger leave in free agency for more money with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens needed someone to fill his spot.
While it seemed initially that the draft would be their only option—anything seemingly better among the available veterans appeared too expensive—a fatal fax machine error sent Dumervil onto the market, where the Ravens managed to pick him up for just a $2.5 million salary cap hit though he's set to receive $8.5 million in total pay for 2013.
That's not a lot of money—cap-wise or otherwise—for someone of Dumervil's talent. It also provides the Ravens with a battle-tested upgrade over the departed Kruger as well as someone exceedingly deadly to pair up on the outside with linebacker Terrell Suggs.
In fact, with the Dumervil addition, the Ravens now have one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league. But are they the very best? Let's take a look at other pass-rushing pairs around the NFL and see which is the most lethal.
Obviously, the biggest measure of pass-rushing success is how many sacks a player or a tandem of rushers can get on opposing quarterbacks. Both Dumervil and Suggs have shown in the past they certainly have the skills to be in the category of top-level 3-4 outside linebackers (or 4-3 defensive ends, which was Dumervil's position with the Denver Broncos and one that Suggs plays at times in the Ravens' hybrid front).
Suggs' best season came in 2011, when he was named Defensive Player of the Year after amassing 14 regular-season sacks. Dumervil's best year was in 2009, with 17 sacks. Though Dumervil wasn't named Defensive Player of the Year for his performance that season, he was certainly in the running.
In 2012, neither Suggs nor Dumervil had their very best seasons. Most of Suggs' year was taken up by his recovery from an offseason achilles tear, which kept him off the field until Week 7. A subsequent tear of his right bicep, which he played through, further held down his production. He had only two regular-season sacks on the year and four total including the playoffs.
Dumervil at least hit double-digit sack numbers, with 11 in the regular season. Just like Suggs, Dumervil also suffered a serious injury the year after his best performance, tearing a pectoral muscle that cost him his entire 2010 season. He had 9.5 regular-season sacks when he returned in 2011.
The first place to look for a comparison to the potential of a Dumervil-Suggs Ravens pass rush is to the Broncos while Dumervil was there. He was paired with linebacker Von Miller and the duo had their best combined season in 2012, with Dumervil's 11 sacks bested by Miller's 18.5.
Miller, who is younger than Suggs and doesn't have the same injury history, is therefore hard to compare to T-Sizzle. However, the desired end result shouldn't be different in Baltimore than it was in Denver. With two dangerous pass-rushers, opposing offensive lines and other pass protectors will be stretched thin. This should allow both Suggs and Dumervil to have good seasons—after all, teams cannot afford to assign two offensive linemen to each player on every down. Besides, Dumervil-Miller doesn't exist anymore—presently, Denver's pass rush is far less scary.
In fact, a number of the NFL's historic pass-rushing tandems are no longer together.
Dwight Freeney is a free agent, which means he and Robert Mathis (best season: 2004, 26.5 combined sacks; 2012, 13 total sacks) won't be paired up for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. The same goes for James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers (best season: 2008, 27.5 combined sacks; 2012, 10 sacks), with Harrison released by the team last month.
There are only three other pass-rushing pairs in the league who could be compared to what the Ravens have in Suggs and Dumervil: Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Michael Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals; linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer of the Dallas Cowboys; and linebacker Aldon Smith and defensive tackle Justin Smith of the San Francisco 49ers.
Atkins and Johnson's best season came in 2012, when the pair combined for 24 sacks. Spencer and Ware also had a strong 2012 season—Spencer put up a career-best 11 sacks while Ware had 11.5 (Ware's best individual season was in 2008, with 20 sacks). The San Franciscan Smiths had a combined 22.5 regular-season sacks in 2012, but 19.5 of those belonged to Aldon; Justin's best season was in 2011, with 7.5 sacks.
There's more to pass rush than just sacks—there are other pressures 3-4 outside linebackers are expected to excel at, such as quarterback hits and hurries, as well as forced fumbles. For that data, we turn to the premium statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Here, we'll compare data between the other three still-existent pairs of pass-rushers.
In terms of total pressure, Suggs added six quarterback hits and 16 hurries to his four regular and postseason 2012 sacks. In his more-productive and healthier 2011, he added 12 hits and 37 hurries to his 14 sacks. Dumervil had a combined 62 pressures in 2012 and 55 in 2009, when he reached his highest sack total but didn't have Miller's help on the outside.
The Bengals' Johnson and Atkins might have been the best 2012 pass-rush tandem that remains intact for 2013, with Johnson putting up an additional eight hits and 34 hurries to his sack total for the year, and Atkins, the league's best defensive tackle, had 13 quarterback hits and 53 hurries on top of his 12.5 sacks.
In terms of quarterback pressure alone, it appears that if Dumervil and Suggs can be completely healthy for the duration of the 2013 season, there's no reason to believe they won't be the best pass-rushing tandem in the league. Even if they aren't—if, perhaps, they simply match the outputs Dallas', Cincinnati's or San Francisco's duos, for example—they'll still be incredibly scary for opposing quarterbacks.
On paper, there may be no two more fearsome pass-rushers in the league than Suggs and Dumervil; putting them together looks like they could be unstoppable. While there are other factors to consider when it comes to their potential pass-rushing success in Baltimore, from age, to health, to the performance of the other defensive players around them, it certainly looks like the Ravens' ability to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks has only gotten better with the Dumervil acquisition.
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