Lambeau presents Ravens' next test

Road warriors face worthy foe in Packers

NFL Week 5


October 14, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

GREEN BAY, Wis. - They scarred Tennessee's unblemished record at Adelphia Coliseum, celebrated in front of Oakland's Black Hole and conquered the altitude of Mile High in Denver.

Today at 1 p.m., the Ravens (3-1) take the NFL's most successful road show into Titletown, where their history-making defense intends to add to the storied tradition.

In what has the makings of a classic matchup, the Ravens' top-ranked defense confronts the offensive-minded Green Bay Packers (3-1) at the not-yet frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, looking to extend their victory tour. Since November 2000, the Ravens have the league's best road record at 7-1, including their victory on a neutral field at Super Bowl XXXV.

"This is a veteran group, so they understand that it's a business trip and they have the right mind-set," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And we're pretty good. When you look at teams that have great road records for a long time, they are usually pretty good.

"But the main thing is they have the right mind-set. Going in, they know it takes a little bit more when you go on the road."

The Packers have established a dominant home-field advantage at Lambeau, the longest-tenured facility in the NFL, revered for its nostalgia and fanatical small-town fan base. Green Bay has won 57 of its past 64 games at home (89 percent), beating the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins this year at Lambeau by a combined score of 65-6.

"It's one of those fields where you're sitting home as a kid, you're always saying, `I wish I could play there,' " Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "With the way they're playing and the way we're playing, it should be a lot of fun."

No one has more of a connection with Lambeau than quarterback Brett Favre.

With a win over the Ravens, he would have the highest home winning percentage among quarterbacks who began their careers after 1950. He is 61-11 at home (.847) - including games at Milwaukee - which is just behind Terry Bradshaw's 67-12 mark (.848).

Favre, the league's leading active passer, has returned to his fearless form, completing 65 percent of his passes for 1,062 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He's escaping sacks and threading passes into double coverage, leading Green Bay atop the NFC Central.

The consensus is that if there's a quarterback who can solve the Ravens' defense, it's Favre.

"You got to contain that guy," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "He's dangerous when you force him out of the pocket. With a lot of quarterbacks, you get them on the run, they have problems throwing that ball accurately. Brett can throw that ball on the run just as accurate as if he was standing there. So, once you get him on the run, you got to get him down quick."

Favre, the league's only three-time Most Valuable Player, considers the Ravens' defense as the toughest challenge of his career.

"It's the best defense I've seen and faced in my 10 1/2 years in the league," Favre said. "And I know there's been talk that on paper it's probably the best team that's ever played defense in the history of the NFL."

The Ravens cannot return the compliment regarding Green Bay's offense. With Favre and running back Ahman Green, the Packers have the third-ranked attack in the league.

"We've heard of so many supposedly good offenses," Lewis said. "[Denver's Brian] Griese and Mike Anderson were supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread. How ever you want to deal with it, we're going to deal with it on Sunday.

"Brett and Ahman, those two are right now at the top of their games and well respected by a lot of people. But they have to come in and earn that respect from us."

The Ravens, though, admit the Packers might be the most balanced offense that they have encountered. That said, the chip on the defense's shoulder still remains firmly fixed.

"Their only weakness is probably playing our defense," McCrary said with a grin.

Offensively, the Ravens have stressed patience against the league's second-ranked defense, which has padded its statistics against lesser opponents like Detroit, Washington and Carolina. The Packers have a veteran secondary that rarely gives up big plays and a front seven that strives for the same workmanlike attitude of the Ravens.

If the Ravens cannot find running seams against Green Bay interior linemen Gilbert Brown and Jim Flanigan, they will need to buy quarterback Elvis Grbac some time in the pocket. The Packers have racked up 20 sacks in four games, with ends Vonnie Holliday and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila supplying over half of that total.

Gbaja-Biamila is on a torrid start with a league-leading nine sacks, tying him for the most sacks in NFL history after four games. But Ravens right tackle Sammy Williams isn't sweating the assignment if the continually switching Gbaja-Biamila lands on his side. Last week, Williams was a major factor in holding Tennessee's Jevon Kearse to one tackle and no sacks.

"When I look at him, I see Kearse automatically," Williams said. "You have to be physical. As you see, he doesn't have that much weight. If you really get on him, he can't get off you. Just don't let him get around you."

Today marks a start of another leg in the Ravens' brutal road swing. They are away from home for four of the next five weekends, and today's trip to Lambeau appears to be the toughest test in that stretch.

"Traditionally, it's always been loud, but we're going to be focused in," Grbac said. "We have enough guys that have been on the road before and have handled those situations."

Ravens today

Opponent: Green Bay Packers

Site: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

Time: 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 1

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