Survivor: Castoff QBs meet on defensive isle

In defenses' shadow, Dilfer, Collins no heroes, but don't want to be goat

Ravens Vs. Giants

January 28, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - If defense rules Super Bowl XXXV, the pressure will be on the quarterbacks tonight. The first one who blinks could be in for a long game.

Will it be Trent Dilfer or Kerry Collins?

The Ravens will try to chase down their impossible dream against the New York Giants with their improbable quarterback in a stadium where Dilfer endured some of his greatest heartache.

A free agent in the off-season, a backup until Week 9, Dilfer has a chance to write a new legacy at Raymond James Stadium. All he has to do is avoid the killer mistake, and let his defense do the rest.

"We don't present it like that," Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said of Dilfer's bottom-line job description. "I don't present it to him saying, `Look, you can't screw this thing up.'

"I tell him, `Here's our game plan. If this game plan is working, we're going to stick to it. If not, we'll adjust.' "

This is a Super Bowl matchup of mirror teams. It's a matchup of dynamite defenses and castoff quarterbacks. The Ravens are 15-4 and have won 10 straight games. The Giants are 14-4 and have won seven straight.

Defense is what makes it special, though. Both teams favor multiple fronts, the ability to bring the blitz, and a proficiency for stopping the run.

The Ravens have allowed just one touchdown in the past 15 quarters. They have allowed just one rushing touchdown in the past 27.

Baltimore was No. 1 in run defense this season. New York was No. 2.

That's the backdrop against which Dilfer, playing with his second NFL team, and Collins, playing with his third, will work. Which quarterback is better equipped to handle the load?

Dilfer has thrown 23 completions in three playoff games.

Collins had 23 completions in the first half of a 41-0 wipeout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game. He finished with 381 passing yards and five touchdowns, spreading the field with potential targets.

The Giants talked all week about running the ball, but the Ravens anticipate the pass.

"I expect the spread, naturally," said cornerback Chris McAlister. "It might not be the first series, but at some point, they're going to come out and spread the field and see what they can accomplish."

Said nickel back Robert Bailey: "I expect them to come with the same game plan they had against Minnesota. Throw, throw, throw."

In the cat-and-mouse game between offense and defense, Collins knows the Giants can't afford to become one-dimensional as nearly all Ravens' opponents have become this season.

"I think that once you get in a mode of passing every down, you get into trouble," he said. "Against any defense, and especially against a defense like this, do we feel like we're going to go in and try to hammer away at them on the ground? No, that would be like beating our heads against a wall. We'll be selective with what we do."

Stopping the run has been the strength of the Ravens' defense. It hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since 1998. But of the Ravens' four opponents that had 100-plus net rushing yards as a team this season, three won - Miami, Washington and Pittsburgh. The only team that gained at least 100 but didn't win was Tennessee in the AFC playoffs.

The Giants may try to spread the field and run Tiki Barber against fewer defenders in the box. The key, according to Giants coach Jim Fassel, is getting All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis blocked.

"The one thing they do is protect Ray Lewis, and he can run and make tackles," Fassel said. "It's hard to get to him. ... I think our line, our interior people, being able to get to Ray Lewis will be critical in this game."

Beyond that, the Giants will have to avoid turnovers.

"Kerry Collins has the game plan," Fassel said. "He understands what he has to do within the framework of that. The biggest thing he's got to do is be smart with the ball each time."

It is no less important for Dilfer to protect the ball. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has thrown just one interception in the postseason. While the passing game has been unspectacular, it has produced big plays each game. There was a 58-yard touchdown pass to tight end Shannon Sharpe against Denver, a 56-yard pass to Sharpe against Tennessee, and a 96-yard scoring pass to Sharpe against Oakland.

"This offense has done what it's needed to do to win," said coach Brian Billick. "Now, that sounds awful minimalist in its approach.

"But throughout the year, if we've had to score a lot of points to win, we have done that [against Jacksonville]. If we've had to march the length of the field in the last two minutes, we've done that [at Tennessee in the regular season]. If we've had to control the tempo of the game, keep it away from the opposing offense, punt it down inside the 10, we've done that [against Oakland, among others]."

An early lead in a defensive struggle like this will be vital.

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