Ravens put on no-fear faces for 7-1 Jaguars

Though odds stacked, Billick's team says it can be winner today

November 14, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Ravens have no fear of the Jacksonville jinx.

In six previous games, all losses, the Ravens found a lot of ways to lose to Jacksonville. From quarterback Mark Brunell's touchdown in the last minute to Mike Hollis' 34-yard field goal in overtime to Ravens quarterback Eric Zeier's tripping over the leg of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden on a two-point conversion play late in the game, the Ravens have, to say the least, stumbled through this series.

But that hasn't changed their attitude. The Ravens (3-5) believe they can win in Jacksonville today despite being heavy underdogs. Honestly.

"We're finally communicating a lot better, playing as one," said Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster. "We're a lot better than our record indicates. We haven't set the bar too high. We win and we send a message that we're capable of playing with anyone. Everything that has happened in the past doesn't make a difference in Sunday's game."

"You could argue that Jacksonville is the best team in the NFL right now," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of the 7-1 Jaguars. "They have the complete package, plus the best balance between a strong offense and defense in the league.

"Our defense is playing incredibly well and we don't want to put them on the short side of the field against Jacksonville. We can't slug it out with them, but we have to cut down on the turnovers and take some shots at a few explosive plays if we want to win. I've only been here for one year, so there is not much I care to say about the other games."

If the Ravens are to have any chance, their defense has to control the game. The Ravens are ranked No. 2 defensively in the league, but they have had trouble in the past with Jacksonville's offense, particularly receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, and quarterback Mark Brunell.

This should be a classic meeting. The Jaguars are ranked No. 9 in the NFL in total offense, but have the top running game led by halfback Fred Taylor, who has rushed for 381 yards on 79 carries. Three years ago, when Jacksonville started its rise in the league, the Ravens began drafting players such as linebackers Peter Boulware, Jamie Sharper and safety Kim Herring just to stop the Jaguars, particularly Brunell.

"He's a threat as a passer and a runner," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "One of the main reasons why we have structured the defense that we have is to be able to try to defend guys like Mark Brunell, who we have to face twice a year."

Ravens safety Rod Woodson said: "If we can shut down the running game, like we've been trying to do with any offense the whole year, put them in second-and-long, then we'll fare well. If we let Taylor run all over the place, then it's going to be a long day for us."

For the first time in three years, Jacksonville has a defense to match its offense, which coincides with Dom Capers' arrival as defensive coordinator this year. The Jaguars have the No. 1-ranked defense in the league and a philosophy similar to that of the Ravens. Jacksonville is a gap-control, pressure-oriented defense.

The Ravens counter with the No. 27-ranked offense, one that will be missing right offensive tackle Harry Swayne, who fractured a bone in his ankle in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland game last week and is out for the season. Spencer Folau had been expected to back up Swayne, but he is still recovering from a sprained knee.

The Ravens will move left guard Everett Lindsay to right tackle and start rookie Edwin Mulitalo at left guard. The selection of Mulitalo might mean the end for veteran guard James Atkins, who was listed as the starter at the beginning of the season, but has played his way out of the lineup, partly because of injuries.

Mulitalo will debut against a team that loves to blitz, another signature of a Capers defense. Ravens quarterback Tony Banks has to be exceptionally sharp in making reads.

Banks played well in the first half against Cleveland, giving the Ravens a 17-3 lead before Billick went with a conservative offense to hold down the score. Banks completed 14 of 25 passes for 129 yards and didn't have a turnover.

"You have to be prepared for the full package every play," said Billick. "We've seen zone blitzes before, but they do it better because of their talent. They present a stiff, stiff challenge for our offense.

"Again, you can't find a weakness on that side of the ball, from the guys up front like Tony Brackens to those two safeties [Carnell Lake and Donovin Darius] in the back."

Offenses have to be aware of Lake at all times because he moves around in the scheme. He may play safety, but sometimes blitzes from the outside as a linebacker.

"Carnell is reckless off the edge, being so big and fast," said Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who coached linebackers when Lake was with the Steelers. "And he's an effective rusher vs. running backs in protection, because he gets up on them so quickly."

This will be the first of two games against Jacksonville in the next three weeks. After today, the Jaguars face New Orleans and then come to Baltimore. But don't expect a letdown.

"This is what I call the grind," said Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. "This is the six games right square in the middle of the season.

"We don't go any further ahead than one game at a time, but there isn't any question about the fact we're very much aware of the big picture, and feel like we want to set the pace and not simply be a part of it. To do that, you've got to continue week in and out to win."

Ravens today

Ravens at Jaguars

Site: ALLTEL Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.

Time: 4:05 p.m.

Line: Jaguars by 13

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

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