Terrell Suggs does not do anything quietly. Quiet people do not found “Ball So Hard” universities. Quiet people don’t have offensive formations named after them when they don’t play a down of offense. And yet, looking at the last decade of Baltimore Ravens football, it’s been easy for Suggs to get a little lost in the shuffle at times. As a self-admitted third-in-command behind Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, Suggs has not been synonymous with the Baltimore Ravens in the way those two players have.
With his three-sack performance and tremendous leadership in Baltimore’s crucial 16-6 victory over San Francisco, Terrell Suggs has etched himself firmly in at least third position not just on this current team, but in all-time Ravens defensive history.
It may seem like a backhanded compliment to put “T-Sizzle” in the bronze medal spot in the annals of the hallowed Ravens defense, but considering who’s ahead of him, being in the same breath is no small feat. The Ravens have enjoyed some exceptional defensive talent outside of Lewis and Reed in their history, but none have contributed so much on and off the stat sheet as Suggs. The immediate comparison one could make is to the venerable Michael McCrary. In just 78 games with the Ravens, McCrary stacked up an astounding 51 sacks. One can also make a case for Peter Boulware, who like Suggs rotated between outside linebacker and defensive end. Boulware played a season less than Suggs has already played, and in those 8 seasons he stacked up 70 sacks, a number which stood until Suggs toppled it this season. While he flamed out fast, when he was at his best, there was no better corner in the league that Chris McAlister. It’s easy to forget that teams routinely threw away from McAlister and he still grabbed 26 interceptions and went to three Pro Bowls. Kelly Gregg, Rod Woodson, and now Haloti Ngata make a strong case for following Lewis and Reed, but all of them fall just short of number 55.
In addition to straight forward sack production, Suggs has forced an incredible 21 fumbles in his career, which leads all Ravens including Ray Lewis. Suggs has also been a dependable mainstay in the lineup, playing 135 games since 2003, which is bested only by Jarrett Johnson’s 137. In a league where health, quarterback pressure and winning the turnover battle are the rallying cries of every coach and analyst, Terrell Suggs is among the most valuable types of players a team can have.
Looking simply at numbers, it’s fairly easy to see where Suggs stacks up as a Raven. However, there is another element which makes Sizzle an undisputed number three and potentially a number two in terms of Ravens defensive history: Pittsburgh. While Ed Reed has had monster games against every divisional opponent including the Steelers, Terrell Suggs gets the fans involved by letting them know that yes, he hates Pittsburgh too. This vitriol for the black and gold has probably gotten him a few more roughing the passer flags than he deserves, but it fires up the fans in a way that only Ray Lewis can. This is not a knock on Reed, who carries himself in a much more subdued manner, but a tribute to how Suggs can connect with a crowd and actually deliver on that energy. There was no better example of that quality than last night, with Suggs grabbing hold of Lewis’ mantle temporarily and setting the tone with his pressure of Alex Smith against a very good 49ers offensive line.
The fact that he entered the NFL young at age 21 helps his career longevity, but in his ninth season, the usually-healthy Suggs is not in the first half of his NFL career. Ravens fans may worry about a future without Ray Lewis, but last night proved that the team can play great defense without their leader. What last night also revealed is that Suggs is absolutely number three in the pecking order on the 2011 roster and the all-time roster, and can step up to number one when asked. The problem, of course, is that at some point in the next few years, there will be an exodus of talent that happens once in a generation in sports.
Until that happens, appreciate T-Sizzle for what he is: a great among greats.
Dave Gilmore lives in Baltimore and writes “The Win Column” for Baltimore Sports Report. He is currently working on a novel about college football. Find him on Twitter @dave_gilmore or visit his web site at davegilmorejr.com