OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Charging from opposite ends of the line with a single-minded purpose, Baltimore Ravens linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are waging a duel to see who finishes the season with more sacks.
"It's competitive. It's a race," Dumervil said Wednesday. "Once the ball is snapped, he knows I'm coming and I know he's coming from the other end."
They have combined for more sacks this season than six NFL teams. Although it's too early to declare a winner in this friendly competition, this much is certain: The real losers are the opposing quarterbacks.
"When you get a sack, it's a big momentum-boost for the defense and a drive-killer for the offense," Dumervil said. "The more sacks we get, the better chance our team has to win. It's good for the Ravens, for sure."
Dumervil is tied for the NFL lead with a single-season franchise record 17 sacks. After getting 2 1/2 in a 20-12 win over Jacksonville on Sunday, Suggs upped his total to 11.
No other tandem in the NFL has more. A year ago, Suggs beat Dumervil 10 sacks to 9 1/2.
"When you've got two guys on the same defense like that, you can't do anything but get better," Suggs said. "You'd better raise your game, otherwise, he'll start to pull away from you."
Suggs has tied a franchise record by getting a sack in five straight games. He has 7 1/2 sacks over that span, and will shoot for the record on Sunday in Houston.
With Suggs and Dumervil leading the way, Baltimore has 45 sacks — third-most in the NFL behind only Buffalo and Philadelphia. That's one reason why the Ravens (9-5) are in the thick of the AFC North title chase and stand tied atop the wild-card standings.
In preparation for facing the Ravens on Sunday, Houston coach Bill O'Brien has been watching of film of Dumervil, Suggs, Pernell McPhee (5 1/2 sacks) and rookie Timmy Jernigan (four).
"They have a very dynamic pass rush, a lot of different players that can rush the passer," O'Brien said. "They do a really good job with their blitz scheme. It's a big challenge for us. We'll be working on it right up until game time."
Given that the Ravens have a half-dozen cornerbacks on injured reserve and own the NFL's 30th-ranked pass defense, putting pressure on the quarterback is an absolute must.
"The pass rush is always really important. It's a strength of ours, obviously," coach John Harbaugh said. "We have to play to that strength."
Dumervil believes a strong rush makes the defensive backfield better, and tight coverage helps guys up front in their quest to get to the quarterback.
"I always say it works hand-in-hand — rush and coverage, coverage and rush," he explained. "Sometimes we get cover sacks and sometimes we get pressure sacks. As a rusher, man, you need the guys back there to cover. Everything has to go perfect. That's why a sack is so sacred."
Playing in place of suspended Haloti Ngata, Jernigan got two sacks last week. He's too inexperienced to get involved in a competition with Suggs and Dumervil, but isn't too young to listen and observe.
"It's an honor for me to be able to play with those guys and learn from them," Jernigan said. "From the day I got here, they taught me a lot."
Suggs is having an outstanding season, but he's going to need a flurry of sacks to catch Dumervil.
"He's been playing phenomenal, but the same can be said of our front seven all year," Suggs said. "We're all kind of getting after it, and it's pretty good."
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