Ravens' pass defense left wide-open for criticism

In first half alone, Jets complete 6 of 15-plus yards

August 17, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In the wake of the Ravens' worst preseason defeat in team history, coach Brian Billick delivered this wish:

"At some point we'll pick up somebody down the middle," said Billick just minutes after the Ravens fell to 1-1 this preseason with a 34-16 loss to the New York Jets on Thursday. "I hope it's sometime between now and my 50th birthday. I'm 48."

On a night when running back Jamal Lewis returned from reconstructive knee surgery to drag nearly 1,000 pounds of tacklers on one play, the weighty issue of the preseason has become the Ravens' secondary.

Their pass defense seemed lost at times in trying to defend Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who put up 129 yards passing and a touchdown in three series.

"Vinny schooled our defense a little bit," Billick said.

The Ravens' cornerbacks got turned around on simple head fakes. Their safeties reacted too late to provide any help.

By the end of the first half, the Ravens had surrendered six passes of 15 yards or more.

These careless mistakes left cornerback Chris McAlister shaking his head in the locker room. The lone returning starter in the defensive backfield, McAlister intends to voice his displeasure to his teammates when they return to camp today.

"I'm going to give a lot of direction," he said. "I'm going to speak my mind basically and let it be known what I see on the film. That's all I can do."

Last season, McAlister teamed with Duane Starks, Rod Woodson and Corey Harris, who combined for 26 years of experience. On Thursday, he was surrounded by Alvin Porter, Anthony Mitchell and Chad Williams, who have a total of four years of experience.

But there could be further growing pains once rookie Ed Reed jumps into the starting lineup and cornerback Gary Baxter returns from a nagging hamstring injury.

"I'm accustomed to fast-paced, high-octane defense and never having any gaps on our defense, especially on the back end," McAlister said.

Porter, who was replacing Baxter on the first team, represented the biggest gap in the game's opening series.

Going one-on-one with receiver Wayne Chrebet, Porter bit on a head fake and Chrebet made an easy 21-yard catch.

Two plays later, Porter again was caught twisting to the inside and Laveranues Coles was wide open on an out route. Coles then made a quick juke to score on the 31-yard reception.

"At the beginning of the game, you want to get a feel for the receiver and see what he is going to give you early," Porter said. "They made a couple of good plays in the process.

"It happens to the best. It's how you respond to it and how you handle it afterward."

Moving on from a game like this can be complicated.

"It's a double-edged process," said Porter, who made the team last year as an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma State. "You want to forget about it, but at the same time, you have to learn from it."

The cornerbacks aren't the only ones to blame.

Unlike the preseason opener, the Ravens couldn't mount any pass rush. They registered only one sack in the game and their blitzing linebackers were getting picked up by running backs.

That allowed Testaverde to pick apart coverages that were slow to react. He hit Chrebet on a 27-yard pass down the middle when the Ravens were playing cover-2, which is intended to eliminate such throws.

But Mitchell admitted that he was at fault on the play.

"It's stuff that we can correct," Mitchell said. "There's no reason for us to get down.

"You just have to step up to the challenge. If you can't step up to the plate, then don't go out there with your bat."

Three weeks away from the season opener, the Ravens' secondary can't continue to strike out like in Thursday's game.

"We've got two more preseason games and we're going to get this thing in shape," McAlister said. "This is not something I would measure us by. This is something we can grow from as a defense."

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