Ravens-Patriots key matchup

January 02, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht

S Rod Woodson vs. QB Drew Bledsoe

Ravens safety Rod Woodson would love to continue his recent streak of intercepting passes. Seven times in his past nine games, Woodson has picked off an opposing quarterback. One more theft would tie Woodson's single-season career high of eight interceptions.

Given the way New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe has hit a slump lately, Woodson figures to have a good chance at the mark. Bledsoe has thrown 20 interceptions in 1999, including 16 in his past seven games.

Woodson, who has adjusted nicely to his new position after struggling to find a comfort zone during the season's first half, is hungry for another interception. But the last thing the 13-year veteran wants to do is make that his top priority.

"You've got to kind of let it come to you," Woodson said. "If you're patient and you read your route progressions, you have an opportunity for a few [interceptions]. If you try too hard, somebody [a receiver] is going to slip behind you. Playing safety is a route progression thing."

Unlike playing his old position at cornerback -- where the primary responsibility is usually the receiver lined up in front of you -- the safety position calls for Woodson to scan areas of the field on pass plays.

On a typical pass play, Woodson might see a halfback slip into the flat, which tells him the opposing quarterback wants him to move in that direction. Meanwhile, Woodson's instincts tell him a receiver is probably trying to slip behind him on his blind side.

Though cornerbacks are taught not to get caught reading the quarterback's eyes, safeties rely on that tool, especially late in the play.

"Late in the down, you're going to read the quarterback," Woodson said. "He might look you off early in the down, but late in the down, he has to throw it, and he has to look where he's going to throw it. You've got to believe what you see."

Woodson said he is determined not to go looking for an interception against Bledsoe, even though he has clearly struggled with that part of his game.

"[The Patriots] throw the ball a lot, and [Bledsoe] has taken a lot of sacks by not throwing [risky passes]," Woodson said. "Earlier in the year, he was lighting it up. The guy still has a strong arm.

"If I'm in the right position and I read the right things, I'll have the opportunity for a pick."

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