Will Ravens get grip on Miami vise?

Ismail, T. Taylor may have hands full with Dolphins' corners

`You can't get frustrated'

Madison and Surtain form one of league's most aggressive duos


Afc Wild Card Game

January 11, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Qadry Ismail knows if they get inside his head, it's over.

Ismail and fellow starting wide receiver Travis Taylor will face one of their biggest challenges of the season in Sunday's wild-card playoff game at Miami from Dolphins cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

Madison and Surtain are possibly the most aggressive cornerback tandem in the league. They hold, push, talk, grab and jam frequently - often times past the five-yard mark where contact is no longer permitted. Sometimes, they get flagged, other times they do not, and when the yellow is not flying, receivers can get flustered.

"You see two guys who say if you're going to catch balls on us, you're going to have to work your butt off every down," Ismail said."[Madison] is real savvy in the way he competes. On one play you might get lulled into sleep and think, `OK, I got him.' Then the next play he's in your hip pocket.

"I think one of the things corners like Patrick and Sam do is that they believe the referee is not going to call pass interference on them every time. They can do some things down the field that the refs are going to be like, `Well, that was pass interference, but I just threw the flag so I've got to let it go.' I think they are so relentless in that regard that you have to maintain your poise, and you can't get frustrated by it."

Madison, in his fifth season, will make his third straight Pro Bowl appearance after intercepting just two passes and missing three games with a separated shoulder. He is stronger and flashier than Surtain, who plays the run better and might actually be the more dependable player.

Surtain, in his fourth season, led the Dolphins with 17 passes defensed and was second with three interceptions.

"They've both got very good confidence in what they are doing," Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "They don't get into improper positions very often. They pretty much have a receiver in front of them. They may, within the zone, play some man technique knowing that they have some help behind them, which allows them to be very aggressive. And they are good at being very aggressive. If you just line up and stand there, they come up and put their hands on you, re-route [you] the way they want to re-route you and keep you in a position where they are always on your hip.

"We've got to move our receivers around a little bit. We've got to motion them and create some free access for them to get off the ball."

The coaches have not backed away from putting the responsibility on Ismail and Taylor to get open. In a game that many expect to be a low-scoring, defensive struggle, a couple of plays downfield by the receivers could be the difference.

"It's huge, and we've presented it that way," Cavanaugh said. "This will be one of their tougher tests all year because these guys can play defense. They can cover, they can run, they can play physical. Fortunately [Ismail and Taylor] get some work against our corners, and those guys are pretty good cover people, too."

The question becomes when does it go from good coverage to illegal contact?

"I think it's a matter of what the officials let them get away with," Cavanaugh said. "There's that five-yard rule, and they are very good at pushing it right to the limit. It's not like they're doing anything extremely illegal, but they know where the cutoff point is. And if you let them put their hands on you, they're going to keep them on you until they have to take them off."

The unknown is third receiver Brandon Stokley, who likely will get a more favorable matchup against nickel back Terry Cousin.

Stokley is coming off a game in which he made the longest reception of his career Monday night, a 46-yarder with time winding down in the first half that set up a Matt Stover field goal, which put the Ravens up 9-3 on the Vikings.

"It's important for me to make plays, especially third downs to keep drives alive, because they are not always going to be able to get open outside," Stokley said. "That's just a fact because of the way their defense plays."

Miami has the No. 1 secondary in the league, primarily because of Madison and Surtain forcing teams to go underneath the coverage. The duo also allows Miami to blitz its linebackers with little worry of the consequence.

"They give us a chance to do some things on defense and feel confident that we have corners that can match up one-on-one on the outside, and we don't have to worry about protecting them," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said.

One-on-one is something Taylor would take, and will likely get Sunday.

"We feel we can beat any corner in the league," Taylor said.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Miami Dolphins in AFC wild-card playoff

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Records: Ravens 10-6, Dolphins 11-5

Line: Dolphins by 2 1/2

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