For Ravens, attitude still starts with `D'

Unit hardly shrinks from task vs. Broncos

September 28, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis heard the same story last year about the greatness of the Denver Broncos' offense. When the subject is broached now, he reacts with his normal dismissiveness toward other teams.

For the Ravens, whose defense has looked semi-mortal the first two games of the season against a couple of not-so-threatening offenses, that could be a good thing. The swagger is still there.

"They were supposed to be balanced last year, too," Lewis said of the Broncos. "The thing with me is that I don't ever have to respect anybody or give anybody any respect. The thing I would never do is disrespect anybody.

"I'm not here to disrespect them, but the Broncos didn't have success against us last year, so hopefully they won't have success against us this year.

"Everybody said their running game was this and that last year. That didn't show up against us. We know it's a new year, but in a couple of days we're going to find out if their running game is as good as they say it is."

The Ravens will also find out if their defense has reached the same high level it did last season, especially in the playoffs. Statistically it has, but even Lewis acknowledged there is a certain something that's not quite there yet.

The Ravens, first in defense in the AFC, have given up just 27 points and 392 yards in their first two games, compared to 36 points and 644 yards from last year's record-setting unit.

Lewis is correct when he says the defense is ahead of last year's pace, but the concern comes from back-to-back touchdowns given up to the Cincinnati Bengals at the beginning of the second half Sunday, though both drives were the result of turnovers (from 18 and 33 yards out).

There were also occasions in which the defensive line put little pressure on Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna, who finished an efficient 19-for-30 for 154 yards, 82 going to receiver Darnay Scott.

"We're not at that level to where everything is clicking," Lewis said. "I hope we're not at that level yet because you'd die out early. But we're ahead of schedule, and that's a good thing.

"Of course, right now every game counts, but late in the season in November and December, you start to see things shape up. Teams that have success early, some of them fall off and some keep going. But our defense right now is on a steady pace of carrying our greatness one more time.

"It's hard. I think that's why you've seen no one since the 1972 Dolphins go undefeated. It's hard to start out fast and end fast. For us to have a bump in the road early, I think it was a good thing. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying we lost and we're happy about it. We have big games coming up the next two weeks. I think you'll really start to see our defense jell after that."

The defense can take a big step toward continuing its dominance if it again handles the Broncos, a team known for its power running game and big-play passing.

Denver has had three different 1,000-yard rushers the past three seasons and looks primed to have either Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson or Terrell Davis -- when he returns from his knee injury -- reach that mark again.

It all starts with the offensive line, where no one weighs over 295. The line relies on quickness, technique and cut-blocking to create lanes for the backs.

"They're technicians," tackle Sam Adams said. "They're well-coached, have good athletes and do what they're supposed to do to perfection -- not necessarily the cut blocking, but their pad level is low, they continue to move their feet and put themselves in good position. They place their hands where they're supposed to be on a particular block or pass rush. They do it consistently and that's what makes them good."

The Ravens held Anderson, who will likely start Sunday's game, to 40 yards on 15 carries in last year's 21-3 playoff win in Baltimore.

It was Gary, though, who finished with a team-high 90 yards and a touchdown in the Broncos' last game at Arizona, and he could be the one the Ravens have to contend with.

"They're very athletic, very aggressive," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Their whole scheme is to stretch and cut, to create those cutback lanes.

"Most people do the same thing. They just do it real well. The techniques are used by everybody. They're very direct and basic in what they do, particularly in the running game. There's not a lot of trickery. They're just very good at it."

Billick said Denver coach Mike Shanahan essentially paid the Ravens' defense the same compliment. Past successes have placed both units on such a pedestal that anything other than dominance seems like failure.

"The bar is not set too high for us," safety Corey Harris said. "Nobody expects more out of us than we do. No matter what the public, media or anybody else thinks, I know we strive for perfection."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Denver Broncos

Site: Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver

When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Broncos by 4 1/2

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