So why is there all this noise lately about Terrell Suggs being the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year? It's because you don't hear anyone talking about the Ravens missing Ray Lewis.
Suggs' statistics are impressive. He leads the AFC with a career-best 13 sacks and tops the NFL with six forced fumbles. His play on the field has been overpowering. He's been named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week so many times (three this season and twice in the past three weeks) that they probably should call it the Suggs award this season.
Where Suggs has separated himself from Allen, Ware and Willis is his ability to carry the defense when he's been needed the most. In four games without Lewis, who has been sidelined by a toe injury, Suggs has 17 tackles, seven sacks and four forced fumbles.
He's been a game-changer. Or, in the words of coach John Harbaugh, Suggs has been a "game-wrecker."
"All of the guys have stepped up their play, but none more than Terrell the past four weeks. But he was playing great before," Harbaugh said. "I don’t think there’s a defensive player in the league who is playing better than Terrell Suggs right now."
In nine games with Lewis, Baltimore limited teams to 16.9 points and 284.6 total yards. In four games without him, the Ravens have held teams to 12.5 points and 263.3 yards. Baltimore is 4-0 this season without Lewis.
These numbers shouldn't be construed that the Ravens play better without Lewis. This is a reflection of how Suggs has lifted a defense playing without its leader. Last Sunday against the Colts, Suggs sacked Dan Orlovsky three times and forced a fumble each time. He's the first NFL player in three seasons to have three sacks and three forced fumbles in the same game.
The NFL's No. 3 defense should get stronger with the expected return of Lewis on Sunday.
"Don't be fooled, this is still Ray Lewis' team," Suggs said. "He is still the general of this team. We're just holding the levees until he gets back."
If Lewis is the general, Suggs has to be the captain. Make that Captain Chaos. He wreaks havoc all over the field.
Suggs is among the NFL's most feared pass-rushers because he can beat you with power and speed. He is a difference-maker on run defense, holding down the edge for the league's second-ranked run defense. He is also a factor when he drops back into coverage.
There's no doubt that he's the NFL's best all-around player. No one other than Suggs has at least five sacks, five passes defensed and five forced fumbles this season. And no one other than Suggs in the top 30 in sacks this year has multiple interceptions.
His dominating play not only makes him among the favorites for NFL Defensive Player of the Year but has put him in the conversation for Most Valuable Player for the entire league (he's currently No. 6 on ESPN.com's MVP Watch behind Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger).
"He’s just a complete player,” Harbaugh said. “He plays every phase of the game at the highest level. He’s not a stat guy, so to speak. He’s not one-dimensional that way. He plays every phase of defense as well as I think you can play at his position, or as well as anyone is. [He’s] better than everybody across the board.”
Suggs is having his best season because he had his best offseason. After signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract in July of 2009, he reported to training camp overweight and out of shape. The result was his worst season: 59 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
He rebounded last season with 68 tackles and 11 sacks, but he still heard the chatter. Suggs' track record has been make the Pro Bowl one season and miss it the next. That motivation led him to work harder during the lockout. He played four or five times a week in a semi-pro basketball league and joined the Ravens this summer in the best shape of his career.
Now, there's no question that he'll make the Pro Bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. The debate is whether he'll join Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as Ravens who have won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
"He seems like he gets better every week," Harbaugh said. "The work ethic is really unparalleled.”
Some of things that come out of Suggs' mouth are unparalleled, too. After sacking Roethlisberger three times in the season opener, Suggs said, "His soul may belong to God, but his [butt] belongs to me." He also announced that he was from "Ball So Hard University" when the defense was introduced on "Sunday Night Football."
"I've never been around anybody quite like him. I think anyone who has met Terrell could probably make that same statement," Harbaugh said. “You see the playfulness, but the seriousness is there. And, for a guy to be able to balance the fun part with just a real strong desire to be the best in the league at what he does [is good].”
Suggs says he's flattered by the buzz surrounding him for defensive player of the year, but he insists his desire lies elsewhere.
"It only counts if we get to Indy and the confetti drops," Suggs said. "I don't really care [otherwise]. I can't help it if you all talk about it. But what does it matter if we lose our first playoff game? What does anything that any of us have achieved this year mean? Nothing. It's short-lived. It doesn't last forever. But championships do."