Secondary's 'kids' rate A's Ravens heap praise on young defenders

December 09, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

By the end of the Ravens' game Sunday afternoon, the rookies were playing head games with the veterans and having a lot of fun.

The Ravens' secondary, the most maligned unit since the team moved to Baltimore, turned in a spectacular effort against veteran quarterback Warren Moon and the NFL's No. 1 passing offense in the 31-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Moon completed only 12 of 19 passes for 140 yards. His backup, John Friesz, had only five completions on 15 passes for 49 yards and was intercepted three times. The Ravens received a lot of help from a defensive front seven that collected four sacks, but a young secondary made a major contribution.

"What can you say? Those kids were fantastic," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary.

The "kids" were starting rookie safeties Kim Herring and Ralph Staten and second-year cornerbacks Donny Brady and DeRon Jenkins. The only veteran was fourth-year starting cornerback Antonio Langham, who had to cover one of the league's most dangerous receivers in Joey Galloway while tutoring rookie cornerback John Williams, who was in on the Ravens' six-defensive-backs coverage.

"I thought overall we did a pretty good job out there," said Marvin Lewis, the team's defensive coordinator. "The guys had a feel for what they saw out there and they played the routes well. They were well-prepared. Our goals were not to give up big plays and win on third down. We didn't accomplish the goals totally, but we played all right."

Herring said: "There was a lot of pressure on me and Ralph heading into the game. But we just decided to go out and have some fun. By the end of the game, we were just messing around out there, disguising the defense and having some fun with their quarterbacks."

The Ravens came into the game knowing that Seattle, averaging 248.3 passing yards, ran a lot of deep routes such as outs, curls and deep-outs on first and second downs. They added slants and deep-ins on third-down situations.

The Ravens believed that their front seven could put on a lot of pressure, so they played more man-to-man coverage than usual on Galloway (56 receptions, 835 yards) and fellow receivers Mike Pritchard (51, 619) and James McKnight (26, 487).

"We knew we had to get pressure with four or five rushers," Lewis said. "About one-third of our defense was pressure, both zone and man-to-man, but we ran much more man-to-man defense than usual. It turned out to be pretty good."

The Ravens also did a lot of disguising and moving around on defense, as Herring and Staten frequently moved backward into the center of the field just before the ball was snapped. Moon said after the game the Ravens were dropping into four-deep coverage to prevent Seattle from throwing the long ball.

Guess again? Lewis said the Ravens didn't play four-deep coverage at all.

"We were moving around trying to disguise the defense as much as possible," Brady said. "We were waiting until the last second to keep the disguise as long as possible. We're a young secondary, so we were trying to gain any advantage possible."

Moon basically stayed with short, underneath passes. The only big play of consequence came late in the third quarter when McKnight ran a deep-in of about 20 yards to catch a pass. Brady missed the tackle and McKnight ran the remaining 40 yards to complete a 60-yard touchdown.

But other than that, the Ravens were surprised by the Seahawks' decision not to go deep, or to use Galloway more from the slot position.

"They had shown a lot of deep ball," Herring said, "but they didn't run a whole lot of crossing routes or go deep, like Jacksonville did the week before against us."

One of the biggest surprises Sunday may have been Langham, who had to cover the speedy Galloway man-to-man all over the field.

During the past two seasons, Langham has played almost exclusively on the left side. This time, Lewis chose to match up Langham with Galloway, who finished with three receptions for 31 yards. Langham knocked down three passes.

"Antonio held his own," Lewis said. "It's the first time since last season we moved him around like that. Sometimes a cornerback gets so comfortable on one side with his turn and foot movement that you don't move him. But Antonio did a nice job for us."

So did Staten, who was making his first start. Staten was aggressive playing the run and had two tackles. He intercepted two passes and knocked down two more. Jenkins also had the first interception of his pro career.

Despite the inexperience on defense, Lewis said his unit was involved in 74 plays and had only 16 breakdowns (out of position). Maybe this was a breakthrough for the secondary, which has been ranked near the bottom of the league the past two seasons.

"If you're around 60 percent, you feel pretty good," Lewis said of the number of breakdowns. "Most top-10 defenses are around 65."

"As far as we're concerned, our season began yesterday," Herring said.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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