Ravens defense tears at second-best label

January 01, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

WITH ABOUT FIVE minutes left in the game, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis sat on the water table by himself, staring out at the 50-yard line. The Ravens had Denver and the game under control, but Lewis' mind was already in Tennessee, site of the Ravens' AFC semifinal game against the Titans on Sunday.

"I was already daydreaming about going back there and getting another victory. That's going to be a statement game, because they ended the regular season No. 1 and we were ranked No. 2," said Lewis, whose team held the No. 1 defensive ranking for most of the second half of the season.

"I got tired of hearing about it all week, how Denver was going to gain yards on us, how Michael Anderson was going to frustrate us. We got tired of hearing about how good Tennessee is," Lewis said. "I was in a zone today. That means an offensive team has hell to pay."

Not only did Lewis dominate, but so did the entire defense. The Ravens held Denver to 177 yards of total offense in the Ravens' 21-3 AFC wild-card game victory yesterday at the Purple Palace, setting the stage for the rubber match Sunday at Adelphia Coliseum.

After giving up substantial yardage to Arizona and New York Jets the past two weeks, the Ravens got a wake-up call that no coach can give. After the final regular-season statistics were compiled last week, the Titans' defense was ranked No. 1 based on allowing only 238 yards of offense per game compared with 248 for the Ravens.

The Ravens' pride was hurt.

They were offended.

The Broncos had to pay.

Denver was only three of 16 on third downs, and the Ravens had five sacks, four of starter Gus Frerotte. The Broncos had only one serious threat in the game, and that ended in a 31-yard field goal by Jason Elam with 4:31 left in the second quarter. The three points scored was their fewest since Nov. 22, 1992, when they were shut out, 24-0, by the Oakland Raiders.

Now, remember, we're talking about the Broncos here, not the Cleveland Browns or the Cincinnati Bengals. The Broncos had the No. 2 overall offense in the league and are coached by Mike Shanahan, who is the best X's and O's coach in the league. The strong winds aided in slowing Denver's passing game, but it was Lewis and linemen Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett who delivered the body blows that took the rest of the air out of the Denver offense.

McCrary had three sacks. Lewis had seven tackles, knocked down two passes and intercepted one. Adams and Siragusa each batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage. The wind had nothing to do with that. The Broncos got their butts kicked.

"We just played our style of defense," McCrary said. "We knew we were playing against a pretty good offense, but if we played our style, it would work out. We had to step up to the challenge."

Now, who has the best defense in the league? "We're the No. 1 defense," McCrary said. "We're the ones who broke two NFL records [fewest points and fewest rushing yards allowed]. You ask anyone who watched the game today and they'll tell you who is No. 1."

It's hard to argue against the Ravens. They have allowed only 168 points this season compared with Tennessee's 191, and they have a plus-23 in turnovers, compared with the Titans at zero. The key yesterday, though, was preparation. Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was never playing catch-up to Shanahan. He had an answer for Shanahan's three-receiver, four-receiver, two-tight-end, one-back and whatever sets, all those cute packages.

The Ravens matched up well all day. To counter the quick two- to three-step drop-back passes, the Ravens' defensive linemen made sure they had their hands up to block Frerotte's vision if they didn't get to him. When they weren't knocking down passes, they were banging around Frerotte, which ultimately took receivers Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith out of the game.

Meanwhile, Ravens coach Brian Billick was using his new East Coast mentality and shoving running back Jamal Lewis down the Broncos' throat.

"When I woke up this morning and went outside, I was happy to find the wind swirling and blowing hard," Siragusa said. "When I came to the stadium, I was happy to find it was still windy as hell. And you know what? When the Broncos came into the stadium, they felt that same wind. They knew they had to run. We knew they had to run. And you know what? Nobody runs against us."

Here is another reason for the Ravens' success: They have so much depth on the defensive line. The Ravens bring 300-and-some-pound defensive tackles Larry Webster and Lional Dalton off the bench at tackle. Webster, who would start for a lot of teams, had two tackles yesterday, and Dalton freed up McCrary for a sack on a stunt.

Imagine being a guard playing the entire game and then having a relatively fresh Siragusa and Adams in the fourth quarter?

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