Ravens out to slow rush of Raiders

Oakland defense has knocked 8 QBs out of games this season

Protecting Dilfer a concern

Ravens QB has been forced to sideline 3 times in past 3 games

Ravens Vs. Raiders

Afc Championship Game

January 12, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

For Denver's Brian Griese, it was a separated shoulder and 10 stitches on the chin. For Seattle's Jon Kitna and Brock Huard, it was matching concussions. And for New Orleans' Jeff Blake, it was a broken foot and an early season exit.

When quarterbacks play against the Oakland Raiders, they usually leave with painful reminders. The knockout kings of the NFL, the Raiders have put eight quarterbacks out of games this season.

The Ravens players really don't want to talk about it. The coaches would prefer not to address it.

But when the Ravens' offensive linemen had their meeting yesterday, assistant coach Jim Colletto made them aware of Oakland's infamous hit list.

"Basically, he's telling us that he wants us to be firmer on the line and make sure nobody touches the quarterback," right guard Mike Flynn said. "It's natural if you're a quarterback and you get hit a few times not to stand in there the next time. He basically wants us to keep those guys off the quarterback. It's just an emphasis this week."

The Ravens, though, didn't exactly have the best comeback upon hearing Oakland's reputation for roughing up quarterbacks.

"I've heard about it," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I've made the comment that our quarterback has been knocked out twice in the last two games. It's not a very good thing going in. But we plan on trying to keep him in the whole game this time."

Actually, Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer has been forced to the sideline three times in the past three games but returned soon afterward. Still, he has strained his left wrist, suffered a mild concussion and injured his ribs in consecutive weeks.

The Ravens' protection has been hit-or-miss recently. In the two playoff wins, they have allowed five sacks in 35 drop-backs.

"At times, it's been real good. At times, it's been shaky," Colletto said. "Sometimes, it's been an individual guy getting whipped by an individual player. Sometimes, it's a breakdown of the actual execution of a particular play and the linemen don't have anything to do with that. So it's a combination of things."

After watching tape of the Raiders, the Ravens are preparing for a power struggle, not a chess match. Oakland relies on shoving its opponents, not schemes.

The Raiders use their bulky defensive tackles, Darrell Russell and Grady Jackson, to penetrate the middle and their agile ends, Regan Upshaw and Tony Bryant, to attack off the edges.

That line has racked up 35 of the team's 43 sacks. In the regular season, the Raiders knocked down quarterbacks 140 times.

"Are they the best front seven we've faced all year? No," Ogden said. "But they are a damned good front seven, and they are a team you have to be concerned about. I think Tennessee's whole front seven was better, but I still think we're going to be in for a battle. That's the honest assessment."

The Ravens' tackles, Ogden and Harry Swayne, could find themselves isolated against Oakland's ends. On the inside, the Ravens have to put their energy toward handling Jackson and Russell, a 650-pound combination.

Jackson will line up over Ravens center Jeff Mitchell, freeing up Russell to line up on the outside shoulder of either Flynn on the right side or left guard Edwin Mulitalo, who missed yesterday's practice with nausea.

Although Russell has only three sacks, he led the Raiders with 30 knockdowns.

"We don't want Trent to get hit," Mitchell said. "If [Oakland is] particularly proficient at it, yeah, then it is a concern. We're going to try to keep them off him."

Besides fighting the pass rush, the Ravens' offensive line has to create a push on running plays. The league's fifth-best running attack in the regular season, the Ravens have averaged 2.8 yards per carry in the playoffs.

"I think we'll have a chance to run the ball," Flynn said. "It'll be up to us to move those guys around a little bit."

The Ravens have to provide running back Jamal Lewis with room and Dilfer with time. The linemen are their biggest shield from becoming another notch to Oakland's reputation.

If they struggle, the Ravens could return cross-country with some painful reminders.

"Games are won or lost up front," Ogden said. "When we get those 100-yard games, it's because we're controlling them. That's the key. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage wins the game."

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 6

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy. High 55 to 60.

Coming Sunday

A special section previewing the AFC championship game.


For live updates and additional coverage, go to http://www.sunspot.net/sports/ravens

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