OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It was just a year ago when Ravens pass-rusher Paul Kruger was considered a slow-developing disappointment. As the Ravens prepare to play in Sunday's divisional playoff game in Denver, he's considered their best hope to disrupt Peyton Manning.
Kruger has become the driving force in Baltimore's pass rush, recording nine sacks during the regular season and registering a 2.5-sack performance in the wild-card round where he was unstoppable (five quarterback hurries).
This season, Kruger has a total of 38 quarterback hurries, which are 15 more than anyone else on the Ravens. He also has 15 quarterback hits, which is five more than anyone on the Baltimore defense.
His challenge is to get to Manning, who was sacked just 21 times this season. Only Eli Manning was sacked fewer times among quarterbacks with over 300 pass attempts. Kruger only got to Peyton Manning once in the previous meeting last month.
"The key is hitting as many times as you can and getting your hands in [their] face," Kruger said. "You have to be distracting or else it's bad news. If you don't, he's going to hurt you. He's just an effective player. His career speaks for itself. I don't have to say much about it. Everybody knows who Peyton is. Everybody knows how good he is. I'm just worried about hitting him."
The Ravens have needed this breakout season from Kruger because linebacker Terrell Suggs (two sacks in nine games) has been slowed by injuries. Before this season, some wondered if Kruger would ever live up to the expectations of being a second-round pick in 2009. He had 6.5 sacks in his first 36 games and only one in his first two seasons.
Now, the Ravens have to wonder whether they'll be able to keep Kruger. He's an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and could be costly to re-sign.