Corners all quiet before Vikings test

Pressure on against Minnesota receivers, but ailing Carter may sit out

Pro Football

January 04, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Duane Starks and Chris McAlister have little fear and lots to prove.

The Ravens cornerbacks will test their renewed confidence on Monday night, when they play under the national spotlight against the Minnesota Vikings.

But five days before the biggest matchups of their careers, the complexion of their showdown with receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter has possibly changed. Carter might not play.

Carter fractured a rib on the left side of his body Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, an injury that was confirmed by the team a day later, according to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. He told the newspaper yesterday that he has just a "50-50" chance of playing against the Ravens.

"It's still up in the air," said Carter, who has been replaced in practice by Jake Reed.

Earlier in the day, McAlister declined to talk about their potential matchup against the Moss and Carter while Starks downplayed the showdown.

"Are they our biggest challenge? Nah. Another challenge? Yeah," Starks said. "I'm not going to get over-hyped about this. I'm just going out and play and do what I've been doing the past four weeks."

Ravens coach Brian Billick, however, understands better than anyone in the organization why Moss and Carter are regarded as the finest wide receiver duo in the NFL. Billick was the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 1998, when he used Moss and Carter to extend defenses and shatter the NFL record for most points scored in a season (556).

Billick's advice to his cornerbacks: Play technically sound and don't flinch."[Minnesota's] dynamic talent can change the complexion of the game in a single play," Billick said. "That's the thing you have to constantly guard against. That one slip, one bad angle, one bad technique step, and all of a sudden, they can score."

The Ravens may not see the Vikings receivers at the top of their game at no fault of their own.

With starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper out with a knee injury and backup Todd Bouman questionable with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand, Minnesota will start Spergon Wynn. The third-year veteran has a live arm but can be erratic, completing just 51 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions on 69 passes.

"Our situation is a little tougher because we're playing with our third-string quarterback," Carter said. "So we can't do as many things as we're used to doing."

The numbers for Moss and Carter are impressive even in a down year. Moss is fifth in the NFC with 80 catches for 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Carter is 11th with 68 catches for 811 yards and six touchdowns.

At 6 feet 4, Moss combines size, speed and agility, running past defenders as easily as he can out-jump them.

The criticism surrounding Moss has centered on him slacking off on plays during games. He spurred on that notion when he said last month, "When I want to play, I'll play."

Moss' production has decreased over the past two games, when he totaled five catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns. But the Ravens know Moss usually shows up big on Monday night games. In seven appearances, he has 39 catches for 863 yards (22.1-yard a catch) and 10 touchdowns.

"Randy is still the most dominant athlete in the league," Billick said.

Starks and McAlister are better suited to handle the Vikings than a few weeks ago.

Over a nine-quarter span in early December, the Ravens allowed 13 passes of 20-plus yards. In the past two weeks since that rut, the Ravens have surrendered just three passes over 15 yards.

For the first time this season, the Ravens haven't allowed a passing touchdown in consecutive games. But containing the Vikings will be tougher than handling the receivers for the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Staying disciplined is the key to all successful things," Starks said. "You have to be able to keep your eyes on a receiver and not peek at the quarterback."

The Ravens believe they are ready for this challenge and may be staking their playoff lives on it.

"I have confidence in our corners," Billick said. "They have faced pretty good tandems before. But this is a challenge for them because this is two of the best."

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