Defense is hungry to catch fish

New QB Fiedler, Dolphins prepare for rush of blitzes

Miami minus 3 receivers

Ravens face defense also at top of NFL

September 17, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

On the night Miami toasts one Dolphins quarterback, the Ravens will attempt to roast another.

Jay Fiedler, meet the Baltimore pass rush.

Having survived a big-play marathon a week ago, the 2-0 Ravens will zero in on Fiedler, Miami's first-year starting quarterback, in a nationally televised showdown of top-rated AFC defenses at Pro Player Stadium.

Dave Wannstedt, Miami's first-year head coach, knows the blitz is coming.

"That's what they do for a living," he said. "They're one of the best defenses in the league. They've got great players, and their coaches do a great job of coaching them. That's what they've made their living on."

For years, the Dolphins made their living on quarterback Dan Marino's extraordinary right arm. Tonight, in an extravagant, 19-minute halftime ceremony, they'll retire his No. 13 jersey, induct him into the Dolphin Honor Roll and present him with a life-size statue of a quarterback that will stand in front of the stadium.

Marino, who retired this season, is Miami's past. Fiedler, an Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth and a distant relative of a former Boston Pops Orchestra conductor, the late Arthur Fiedler, is the future.

The Dolphins' future looked bright in a 23-0 season-opening victory over the Seattle Seahawks, but not-so-hot in a 13-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Dodging a barrage of blitzes, Fiedler was sacked three times, and completed only 12 of 31 passes. The Vikings' blitz was a prelude for the Ravens'.

"Seeing it for the first time last week, obviously, it was a little different for him," Wannstedt said. "He'll handle it better this week. I have no doubt about that. I believe Baltimore is more experienced at doing it because they do it all the time. So we're going to have to be sharp to give ourselves a chance."

Ravens coach Brian Billick knows a little about Fiedler himself. Fiedler was a reserve quarterback with the Vikings in 1998 when Billick was offensive coordinator.

"He's intelligent, athletic; he's not going to make a lot of big mistakes," Billick said. "But he will be tested by our defense. We match up very well."

The Dolphins' offense is one of diminishing returns. Fiedler hasn't had two of his best wide-outs yet - O. J. McDuffie and Lamar Thomas are out with injuries - and lost a third this week when Tony Martin injured his foot.

The Ravens are coming off a harrowing 39-36 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in which they surrendered 386 passing yards and 432 total yards.

"We're confident the mistakes made on defense won't happen again," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "Everybody has to focus on doing his job and not worrying about everybody else's job."

For the third week in a row, the Ravens' opponent will feature a starting rookie in the offensive line. For the second time, it'll be defensive end Rob Burnett's man. He'll line up against 6-foot-8, 325-pound Todd Wade, who played last season at Mississippi.

"He's a big kid," said Burnett, an 11-year veteran off to a strong start. "I feel like my experience is the big thing. I try to make young guys think. I'm not always where you think I'm going to be."

The Ravens' defense has five sacks and two interceptions after two games. The Dolphins have five sacks and seven interceptions. In Miami, defense remains the team strength.

A year ago, the Dolphins owned the best red-zone defense in the league. They feature two of the league's most aggressive cornerbacks in Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, who like to press receivers at the line of scrimmage and drop back into a two-deep zone.

"We're going up against in-your-face corners this week," said Ravens wide-out Patrick Johnson, who makes his first appearance of the season at split end, replacing injured Qadry Ismail.

Ravens quarterback Tony Banks gouged Jacksonville's two-deep coverage for 262 yards and five touchdowns last week, including the game-winner to tight end Shannon Sharpe. Sharpe could be a big target again tonight.

"I go into a game, and if I get the opportunity to catch passes, I have to catch what they throw to me," Sharpe said. "I don't say I should catch 10; I don't say I should catch five. If a defense wants to take a play away, they can take him away. They [the Dolphins] understand the weakness of their defense is in the middle of the field, so they take extra precautions."

Expect the Ravens to pound away with the run, as well.

"They put seven in the box and try to stuff the run," said running back Priest Holmes. "If we can get them running sideways, we'll be very successful."

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