The Baltimore Ravens have a rich history of strong and have had many elite pass rushers play for them over the last quarter century and change. However, not even the franchise’s all-time sack leader, Terrell Suggs, has been able to do what Justin Houston has done over the team’s last three games.
In just his second year with the team and nine weeks into the 2022 season, the 12-year veteran became the first player in franchise history to record multiple sacks in three straight games.
He was nearly unblockable for all four quarters in the Ravens’ 27-13 win over the New Orleans Saints in primetime on Monday Night Football as he recorded a season-high 2.5 sacks to increase his team-leading total to 8.5 which is tied for the second-most in the league.
At 33 years old, Houston appears to have found the fountain of youth in Charm City but if you ask him what has been the key to his tremendous success and impressive production this year, he’d give all the glory to God.
“This is all God,” Houston said in his postgame press conference. “I think it is amazing how God is working through me, and I pray he continues working through us.”
Thankfully, it was divine intervention that paved a way for his return and resurgence with the Ravens because he admittedly contemplated retirement in the offseason before deciding to re-sign on July 7.
“My wife and I took a vacation, and I turned my phone off for about three or four days. I just prayed and prayed, and I heard God,” Houston said. “I literally heard God say, ‘Give me all of you and I will give you your desires.’ And I told my wife I’m going to be all in this season, and I just want to glorify God in all I do. The things that are happening on the field I can’t even explain.”
Houston has recorded at one sack in every game that he has appeared in and finished this season and somehow has been even more effective playing a lower percentage of the team’s total defensive snaps.
“He can still bring it. You watch him in one-on-ones, he still can win one-on-one,” head coach John Harbaugh said in his postgame press conference. “He just has a knack, but also, he’s still talented; he’s still explosive, he’s still strong.”
His head coach and teammates have been in awe of how consistently dominant and disruptive he has been all season and credit his incredible work ethic as one of the reasons why. Second outside linebacker Odafe Oweh went as far as to say that Houston was in “God Mode” against the Saints and that it motivated him to want to raise his own game.
“It’s just inspiring to be in the room with a guy like that,” Oweh said in his postgame press conference. “It was impressive to see. He told me this summer when he was working out in Georgia that he was really tapped in, in terms of this year and what he really wanted for himself. You see it obviously. I don’t know what it is, but I’m trying to get whatever he’s got.”
His sacks weren’t the only big plays Houston made in this game. He also recorded his first interception since 2018 and just the fifth of his career in the fourth quarter when he hauled in a pass that was batted at the line of scrimmage by veteran defensive lineman Brent Urban. It set up Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense with a short field that they would cover in three plays before punching the ball across the goal line for the third and final time.
“We work on that all day in practice,” Houston said. “It’s a drill that Coach Rob (Leonard) puts us in where we hit the shed and come out the shed, deflect the ball and catch it. I just think practice makes perfect and that was a time where practice paid off.”
Roquan Smith Makes Immediate Impact for Ravens
Less than a week after his trade to the team from the Chicago Bears was officially announced, the two-time All-Pro didn’t waste any time making his presence felt in his debut game as a Raven. He got the starting nod and on the Saints’ second drive of the game, he showed exactly why fans should be excited and why the Ravens brought him into the fold.
He absolutely stonewalled five-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara on back-to-back plays in short-yardage situations for two yards and a no-gain to force a punt. Smith finished with five total tackles including an impressive takedown of Kamara in the open field on a check-down where he prevented what could’ve been a big play for New Orleans by stopping him in his tracks before he could get upfield.
His teammates and coaches are amazed by how quickly he has been able to learn their complex playbook and were even more impressed by he looked in his first action for the team.
“He slipped in there and made a couple tackles on plays that could have gone a little further. He’s a heck of a player, heck of a guy,” Harbaugh said. “To come in and learn the defense that quickly says a lot about him.”
Houston thinks the Bears were crazy to let “one of the best linebackers in the game” go but is grateful to have him and believes that he is just what they needed on defense and also that his addition makes them a “scary” unit on that side of the ball.
“I’m going to get accustomed, and it’s going to be scary after I get it all down pat, so I’m excited,” Smith said in postgame comments. “I love the way [defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald] calls the game, so I think there’s going to be so many great things in store for us.”
Ravens’ Entire Defense Is Trending Upward
Houston and Smith weren’t the only Ravens defenders that had standout performances against the Saints and are getting better as the season goes on. All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey led the team with seven total tackles including one for a loss, recorded his first sack of the season and a pass deflection, and was lights out in coverage.
“Marlon’s one of our leaders on defense,” Harbaugh said. “I’d say he may be the best – he’s one of the best corners in football.”
Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell teamed up with Houston for a sack, batted a pass down at the line of scrimmage, and recorded a pair of tackles including one for loss. He believes that the entire unit is “trending in the right direction”
“I think we can still be better than we were today,” the six-time Pro Bowler said. “We knew early in the season that we were close. We made a couple mistakes here and there, gave up some points, and everybody says you’re a bad defense…We know what we’re capable of doing.”
Houston thinks that performances like his and the rest of the Week 9 standouts will give the rest of the defense a “big boost” going forward.
“I think we know who we are. I think we had a lot of growing pains at the beginning of the season, and we are still growing,” the four-time Pro Bowler said. “We still left a lot of plays out there tonight. The thing is what we have in mind as a defense is that it is every man in that room. It’s not just one or two guys. It’s the whole defense. When got a bunch of hungry dogs and they really want it and come together as one, the sky is the limit and I think that is what we have.”