Underdog Giants up for challenge

Ravens' `D' respected, but N.Y. not intimidated

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 18, 2001|By Neil Best | Neil Best,NEWSDAY

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Bullied?

"Put it like this: I'm not worried about it," Giants receiver Ike Hilliard said. "It'll be interesting to see who tries to bully who."

Intimidated?

"If something bleeds, you can kill it," center Dusty Zeigler said. "I don't think it's an issue of us being intimidated by their physical assets or anything. Having accomplished some of the things we have this year, we have a certain confidence about ourselves."

Scared?

"Listen," tight end Howard Cross said. "Not with Jessie Armstead, Michael Strahan, going through training camp with those guys yapping at you every day. They have pretty much cornered the market on yapping."

To a man, the Giants' offensive players returned to practice yesterday expressing nothing but respect and admiration for a Ravens defense that is the brick wall between them and winning Super Bowl XXXV. But they were equally adamant that they are ready for the challenge, and far from fearful of it.

"We played hard, and we'll fight for 60 minutes or however long it takes," said Hilliard, who makes his living going over the middle and has amazed teammates with his toughness. Earlier this season, he took a vicious shot to the sternum from the Lions' Kurt Schulz and returned after missing only two games.

The Ravens have overwhelmed opponents this season, most recently holding three playoff teams to a total of 16 points and one touchdown. Their 165 points allowed in the regular season were an NFL record for a 16-game season.

A big part of their game is physical intimidation. The front seven, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, has been all but impenetrable against the run.

"They're tough," running back Tiki Barber said. "They have two 360-pounders in the middle. You can't run inside. And they have so much speed at linebacker it's tough to run outside. Their corners and safeties, all they do is make plays. It's just hard to find weaknesses in their defense.

Zeigler called it "probably one of the best defenses I've ever had to play in my career."

Guard Glenn Parker said, "You hear things about them all year and think maybe there's something you can crack, but right now, they look pretty tough ... You can't let someone come free in this game, or you will get somebody killed."

The Ravens have knocked out all three starting quarterbacks they have faced in the playoffs. "They hit the quarterback, and they hit him good," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "Legally, but good."

They had a modest 35 sacks in the regular season, but have 10 in the playoffs. So this will be a good test of the New York line's ability to keep quarterback Kerry Collins upright. He has been sacked 30 times in the regular season and playoffs, and has suffered remarkably few bruises.

"There have been few Mondays where I have woken up and I haven't felt fine," he said. "I was in for treatment once early in the year, so it's been 17 or so weeks that I've been injury free, which, playing every game and taking darn near every snap, that's a pretty good tribute to the way those guys [on the line] have played.

Someone suggested Collins knock on wood after that comment, so he tapped on his head.

During the regular season, the Ravens held opponents to an average of 60.6 rushing yards per game, held quarterbacks to a passer rating of 62.5, and had 23 interceptions and 26 fumble recoveries. In the playoffs, opponents have averaged 64 rushing yards, have a passer rating of 43.1, and have thrown six interceptions.

Fassel was not about to tip his hand about the game plan a week and a half before the game, but he downplayed the widespread notion the Giants must copy the Jets' plan that produced 524 yards of offense, 481 passing, on Christmas Eve against the Ravens.

"The winner is not measured in yardage, the winner is measured in points," he said. "[The Jets] had six turnovers in that game. You're not going to win any football game that way."

The Ravens won, 34-20, thanks largely to the turnovers and Jermaine Lewis' two punt returns for scores. Still, the Giants likely will take some ideas from the Jets, including multiple receiver sets to spread out the Ravens' defense and force the linebackers into coverage. Anything to minimize the trench warfare at which Baltimore excels.

"They play clean, they're just very aggressive," Fassel said.

The flip side of what could be one of the most brutal, low-scoring Super Bowls in history is the Giants' defense, which itself takes pride in hitting hard, early and often.

"We both play the same type of ball," safety Sam Garnes said. "I don't think it scares either one of these teams. You try to intimidate them, but this team, I don't think you can intimidate them. They're kind of like us."

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