Ravens need to make point with offense

November 09, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

The Ravens' defense is ranked No. 2 in the NFL, so you can assume that Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell isn't going to complete 65 percent of his passes Sunday, the way he did in five previous starts against Baltimore.

You can assume that receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell won't perform their usual dissection of the Ravens' secondary. And you can assume that the Jaguars won't meet their series averages of 31 points and 414 yards.

Now, how are the Ravens going to score?

The difference in the Jaguars this season is their No. 1-ranked defense. They've allowed 76 points in eight games -- the fewest by an NFL team at the midpoint since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978.

The Ravens have moved the ball on Jacksonville in the past, scoring 25 or more points in the first four games of the series. But under new coordinator Dom Capers, the Jaguars are playing at a Super Bowl level on both sides of the ball.

This is a team that has won all eight of its games against the Modell franchise, seven of its eight games this season, 23 of its past 27 at ALLTEL Stadium.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are 3-5 under first-year coach Brian Billick, and their three victories were over opponents (Atlanta and Cleveland) that have combined for three wins all season.

How is quarterback Tony Banks going to react in his third start against a defense that is far more aggressive than Buffalo's and far more talented than Cleveland's?

How is the offensive line going to hold up without injured right tackle Harry Swayne against a defense that leads the NFL with 35 sacks?

To repeat, how are the Ravens going to score?

The Jaguars have allowed 33 points in their past five games, a feat last surpassed by the 1991 New Orleans Saints, who allowed 26 in a five-game span.

The streak continued Sunday with a 30-7 victory over Atlanta in which the Jaguars had three interceptions and a team-record nine sacks.

"They were running right through me," Falcons center Robbie Tobeck said.

Weak-side linebacker Kevin Hardy leads the AFC with 7 1/2 sacks. Defensive tackle Gary Walker has six. Safety Carnell Lake has been a difference-maker all over the field.

The Ravens used to abuse cornerback Dave Thomas, but the Jaguars have replaced him with rookie Fernando Bryant, who has made a Chris McAlister-type impact.

"They're a good, solid defense that doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Billick said yesterday. "They did a nice job with their defense last year, obviously well enough for that coach [Dick Jauron] to go on to the Bears and do a pretty good job.

"But the personnel they have probably fit the style that Dom has, in terms of the pressure packages, the zone blitz that he's as good at as anybody in the league. It was the final link for them in terms of thinking of themselves as not just a team that can make a run to the Super Bowl, but as a favorite."

Billick conceded that the Ravens aren't going to rush for 203 yards or control the ball for 33: 44 the way they did against Cleveland. The Jaguars probably will try to jam them at the line of scrimmage, take away Errict Rhett and dare Banks to beat them.

The Ravens still must try to establish the run -- Rhett is sixth in the NFL with 658 yards rushing, while the Jaguars are No. 9 against the run, and No. 1 against the pass. But ultimately, any chance of an upset rests with Banks.

"This will clearly be the toughest of the three [starts], with regard to what he's going to be responsible for in terms of hot reads or redirecting his protection or getting out of something," Billick said.

Banks didn't turn the ball over against Cleveland, and Billick said he missed only one hot read. But if the Browns were harmless dawgs, the Jaguars are fearless Dobermans.

Capers' high-pressure, shoot-the-gaps system is similar to that of two of his former Pittsburgh colleagues who are now coordinators, the Bengals' Dick LeBeau and the Ravens' Marvin Lewis.

Banks practices against that defense every day. The Ravens' linemen are experienced at blocking against it. Nothing they see Sunday should shock them. The problem is how to deal with it against such outstanding talent.

The Ravens' best chance might be to keep throwing deep -- Jermaine Lewis, calling Jermaine Lewis -- but that can only happen if right guard Jeff Blackshear contains Walker, and Spencer Folau proves an adequate replacement for Swayne.

"You're not going to trick this team," Billick said. "They're very disciplined. They know when they zone blitz and zone dog. That defense leaves certain voided areas that you have to find. But you're going to have to find it. They're not going to tip it."

The Jaguars have allowed eight touchdowns in eight games. Until now, only their offense terrorized the Ravens. What makes Sunday so frightening is that their defense might do the same.

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