In Miami, secondary proves second to none

Grbac, Ravens face daunting task to throw against top-ranked unit

Ravens' pass offense vs. Dolphins' pass defense

January 11, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

This was the third season in which the Miami Dolphins led the NFL in pass defense.

The first two times that happened, the Dolphins wound up in the Super Bowl.

Elvis Grbac and the Ravens' inconsistent passing game will be on the spot at Pro Player Stadium, where visitors have found it difficult to throw against a Dolphins defense that includes cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain, middle linebacker Zach Thomas and end Jason Taylor.

The Dolphins allowed a league-low 176.8 yards passing this season. Atlanta and Buffalo amassed decent numbers playing catch-up the past two weeks, but Miami surrendered an average of only 123.2 yards passing in its first six home games.

The Dolphins' only loss at Pro Player came to the Jets on Nov. 18, and that 24-0 setback wasn't exactly the secondary's fault, as Vinny Testaverde and the New York passing game netted just 76 yards.

In St. Louis, league MVP Kurt Warner burned Miami for 318 yards through the air, but the Ravens don't harbor any illusions that they can move the ball like the Rams. Grbac has thrown for more than 200 yards just once in the past four weeks, and top target Qadry Ismail has only eight catches for 98 yards to show for the past three games.

Ismail and Travis Taylor could be in for another bumpy ride in Miami.

"The last couple of weeks, we've seen a lot of bump and run," Grbac said. "The guys outside are going to be prepared for that, and have the mind-set that they've got to be physical and make some plays. There aren't going to be too many open windows for them, so they're going to have to fight for some ground. Their corners are going to be very sound, and we just have to make a couple of plays."

Grbac, who has thrown just two interceptions in the past three games in the Ravens' increasingly vanilla offense, cannot revisit his penchant for forcing the ball into coverage and leaving it in the opposition's hands. The Dolphins brought an interception back for a touchdown a club-record five times this season. Seven times in team history a Miami linebacker has taken an interception all the way; four of them come courtesy of Thomas.

The Ravens must lean on the reliable. Dolphins end Jason Taylor has team highs of nine sacks and 25 hurries, but he has to get around left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Another must for the Ravens is the clutch play of tight end Shannon Sharpe.

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