Ravens' D game for QB chase

Division play leaves unit well-prepared for scrambler like Gannon

`We prefer to stalk him'

Pro Bowl QB's ability to run, accuracy out of pocket key for Raiders

Ravens Vs. Raiders

Afc Championship Game

January 10, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon can run, but the Ravens won't let him hide.

Armed with speed and athleticism, the Ravens' defense was constructed with the intent of shutting down scrambling quarterbacks. In the AFC Central, the Ravens have to go against the mobile likes of the Tennessee Titans' Steve McNair, Pittsburgh Steelers' Kordell Stewart and Jacksonville Jaguars' Mark Brunell twice a year.

That's why the Ravens show no fear in handling the fleet-footed Gannon. In fact, they relish the chase.

Some teams look to strictly contain Gannon. Others designate a player to spy on him, watching every move.

The Ravens choose to hunt him down.

"We prefer to stalk him and go get him," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "We want to let him know that he has to throw in a hurry."

Gannon won't make that easy. The Pro Bowl quarterback buys time while keeping defenses on edge.

When Gannon moves out of the pocket, he still remains a double threat. He keeps scanning the field going through a couple of reads and then decides at the last moment whether to throw or run.

Gannon was the NFL's seventh-rated quarterback, throwing for 3,430 yards and 28 touchdowns. He was the league's second-leading rushing quarterback, running for 529 yards and four touchdowns.

There may be more talented passers out there, but no team relies on its quarterback as much the Raiders.

"The difference in the league right now is that I don't know if there's any dominant quarterback play," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But he's as close as to that as I've seen all year long."

For that reason, Billick calls Gannon the X-factor. If the Ravens want to take the next step to the Super Bowl, they'll have to ground Gannon.

"If it's their destiny to win, I'd be surprised against our defense if it's not because of a couple of key third downs that he scrambles for a big play or a scramble around with a big throw down the field," Billick said. "That's where their big plays are going to come from. It's going to be because he moves around and makes a couple of things happen."

Billick has firsthand knowledge of Gannon.

In 1992, Billick was in his first year as tight ends coach for the Minnesota Vikings, where Gannon was the starting quarterback.

That year, Gannon was benched, reinstated and benched again by Vikings coach Dennis Green. He was traded to the Washington Redskins the next off-season, before Billick was promoted to offensive coordinator.

"Denny and Rich, I'm not sure saw things the same way," Billick said.

Billick hasn't spoken with Gannon since 1994, when an out-of-work Gannon sought advice. After the year off, Gannon went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1995 to '98 and then rejuvenated his career the past two seasons with the Raiders.

At 35, Gannon is at the top of his game.

"What I couldn't know and he probably didn't know is how well he would develop in terms of the mental aspect of the game in orchestrating a team and working an offense," Billick said. "I think being with a number of different offenses was a heck of a teacher for him."

There are plenty of points to back Gannon's influence.

The year before Gannon arrived, the Raiders scored 18.0 points a game. With Gannon, the Raiders' scoring average climbed to 24.4 points in 1999 and to 29.9 points this season.

Billick considers Gannon the fastest quarterback the Ravens have faced this season. Lewis sees Gannon's throwing accuracy on the run as the biggest asset.

"He keeps moving the chains," Lewis said. "When you have a guy like that in your offense, that when maybe everything is not perfect he still makes a positive play, that's key."

The Ravens enter familiar territory with Gannon. They haven't allowed a quarterback to run for more than 33 yards in a game this season and have given up just two scrambles over 14 yards.

After collapsing on an elusive McNair on Sunday, the Ravens remain in their high-pursuit mode. When it's a footrace with a quarterback, the Ravens expect to win every time.

"I think we're equipped to play against people like that," Lewis said. "I think our guys understand the responsibility that comes with that. I think we kind of welcome the challenge."

Opposing QB rundown

A look at how the Ravens' defense has fared against scrambling quarterbacks in the AFC Central this season:

Quarterback, team...G...Rushes...Yds....Per rush...Per game

Mark Brunell, Jaguars...2...10...35...3.5...17.5

Steve McNair, Titans...3...16...98...6.1...32.7

Kordell Stewart, Steelers...1...9...31...3.4...31.0

Game data

Ravens (14-4) at Oakland Raiders (13-4)

Where: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/ WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Raiders by 5 1/2

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