Kyle Van Noy has the same question you do.
How the heck was he available for the Ravens to sign in late September?
Two months ago, before he became an unlikely sack machine for the Ravens, Van Noy was stuck waiting for a team to come calling.
“I mean, what are we doing?” Van Noy recalls thinking as he sat at home with the NFL season beginning without him. “Are people watching the film and whatnot? Because I’ve produced and, you know, you get a little annoyed cause you’re, like, watching and you’re saying I can’t play?”
Van Noy is on the wrong side of 30 and no longer in the prime he was in when he played for Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots teams in 2016 and 2018. But he ended last season with the Los Angeles Chargers on a high note and said it was “frustrating” when NFL teams didn’t seem interested in him this offseason.
“I’ve made plays everywhere I’ve gone, doesn’t matter what team it’s been,” Van Noy said, noting an exception for his first stop in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
After going unsigned throughout the offseason, training camp, preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season, the Ravens needed help at outside linebacker and signed Van Noy to their practice squad. He said the Las Vegas Raiders were also in contact with him but that he chose the Ravens because he believed it would be a better fit.
Six weeks later, it’s hard to imagine the NFL’s top defense without him.
“He’s the player that we anticipated him being,” defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. “The things that he’s done over the course of his career, he’s doing here. He’s playing obviously at a high level, but he’s the type of player that I expected him to be. So, credit to him for being ready to go. I don’t mean that to take anything away, but that’s how highly I thought of him.”
In six games with the Ravens, the 32-year-old outside linebacker has five sacks, all in the past four contests, while playing about half the defense’s snaps. He ranks second in sacks behind Justin Madubuike (7 1/2) for a Baltimore defense that leads the NFL in the category at just under four per game.
Van Noy isn’t surprised by how quickly he caught on in Baltimore.
“I pride myself on having a high IQ,” he said. “You can ask anybody, and I think they’d tell you I’m a smart football player. I take pride in that. I take pride in being a professional. I tried to learn the defense in a week, so I feel like I got a good grasp on it. I know what everyone’s doing and where I fit in.”
His importance was never more obvious than in Sunday’s 37-3 rout of the Seattle Seahawks.
There might not have been a traditional turning point in the blowout victory, but if there was one, it was Van Noy’s back-to-back sacks — the second forcing a fumble — in the second quarter.
Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had just fumbled near midfield to give the Seahawks a chance to score and gain momentum heading into halftime. But Van Noy ensured that wouldn’t be the case, rushing past Seattle left tackle Charles Cross and slapping the ball out of quarterback Geno Smith’s hand before he could attempt a pass.
The play stood out to coach John Harbaugh so much that he mentioned it during his Monday news conference after answering a question about backup tight end Isaiah Likely.
“One thing I also want to mention is Kyle Van Noy,” Harbaugh said. “Didn’t get a chance to mention him [Sunday]. How about the swing of events that he led at the end of the half, right? Probably flipped the game or broke the game in a way. It kept them from getting back within one score, just crazy good pass rush right there.
“So, side note: Kyle was awesome.”
In his first game with the Ravens, Van Noy totaled four quarterback pressures and got his hands on two passes while playing 23 snaps against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 — just five days after his first practice. He got home two weeks later with a sack in Baltimore’s win over the Tennessee Titans, and two more (with five tackles) versus the Lions. Going back to last season with the Chargers, Van Noy has 10 sacks in his past 11 regular-season games.
He is far from the first veteran pass rusher to make an impact in Baltimore. From Justin Houston, Jason Pierre-Paul and Calais Campbell in recent years to Pernell McPhee’s second stint with the team a few seasons ago to Chris Canty a decade ago, the Ravens have prided themselves on having veterans to bolster their defense. This year, Van Noy and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed in August, make up that group with David Ojabo on injured reserve, Tyus Bowser on the non-football injury list and Odafe Oweh missing four games because of injury.
Oweh, a third-year outside linebacker and 2021 first-round pick, said the “chemistry” among the team’s pass rushers is among the reasons the Ravens lead the NFL in sacks.
“I learn different things from different vets,” Oweh said Wednesday. “[Clowney] is more like a [Pierre-Paul] mold. He’s going to play [all] out and just go hard. [Van Noy] is the [strong-side linebacker] prototype. He just knows everything, coverages, [he’s] savvy, just little things like that that you can really add to your game to get more just to get more plays.”
Whether Van Noy maintains his torrid sack pace, he’s proved there’s more in his tank. And the fact that other teams questioned that has perhaps given him the motivation to keep making the “game-changing plays” he knew he was still capable of months ago.
“Who needs training camp?” Van Noy quipped Sunday after another big performance in a Ravens win.
Clearly not Van Noy.
Baltimore Sun reporter Brian Wacker contributed to this article.
Browns at Ravens
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6 1/2