Hidden asset, Boulware emerges as a force

October 21, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS OUTSIDE linebacker Peter Boulware has had only one sack in each of the past two games, but there aren't many of his teammates who have had as much impact. To block the Pro Bowl player, you must first find him.

And that's where the fun begins.

One play he is on the left side, and the next play he is on the right. On one play he is lined up on the outside shoulder of the tight end, then the next he is on the weak side opposite the offensive tackle. He might drop into pass coverage, or he might put his hand in the dirt as a defensive end.

Peter, Peter, where are you?

It's a game of peekaboo that the Ravens are winning.

Boulware's sack totals may be down from his Pro Bowl years, but he has become the second-most destructive force opposing offenses have to deal with.

"He is a great player, a Pro Bowl player," said Jaguars left tackle Mike Pearson. "I tried to do my best against him. As an offense, we tried to block him. We knew he was a great pass rusher and we had to block him. You can't let him go unblocked. We had a few checks during the week. We pointed him out and didn't want to let him run free."

Jacksonville couldn't stop him. Boulware finished with eight tackles in the Ravens' 17-10 win against the Jaguars yesterday, as he chased quarterback Mark Brunell all over Ravens Stadium. He forced Brunell out of the pocket about six times and hurried him about five others.

It's the second straight week Boulware has left his mark on a game. Boulware was even more dominant against the Indianapolis Colts last week, so much in fact that the Colts were called for three offside penalties in their haste to latch onto him.

Indianapolis' offensive tackles probably saw No. 58 in their sleep.

"My play has been OK, but I can always do better, always step it up," Boulware said. "I can always improve on getting to the quarterback a lot better or improve on stopping the run. A key for us was that we didn't want to focus on Ray [Lewis] not being here this week, that we still had to click on all cylinders. I have to put a double hat on my head, and Eddie Hartwell had to do double work. But when Ray comes back, we're going to be even more stingy."

It will just add to the headaches.

The Ravens had moved Boulware, a six-year veteran, around in the past, but that was more out of necessity because of injury. But now they want to cause confusion or force teams into showing which way they will turn their pass protection.

When that happens, it's advantage, Ravens.

A big advantage.

"Once we find out which way they will turn their protection, if we can dictate that or they turn to get me, then we can send someone else off the other side," Boulware said. "It's designed, in some ways, to be deceptive."

But to make it work, a player has to be an exceptional pass rusher, and that's Boulware. He is making teams change their game plans because they want to match up against him with either a tackle and a tight end or a tackle with a running back coming over to either help out or "chip" him.

Nobody wants to single-block him anymore. They can't. You want to make a grown tackle cry? Put Boulware on his outside shoulder with no help on a third-and-long situation. It's truly a tackle's nightmare.

Boulware was all over Brunell yesterday. Faced with a third- and-four at the Ravens' 20 with 1:27 left in the first half, Boulware put enough pressure on Brunell to force him to overthrow wide receiver Bobby Shaw, later resulting in a missed 39-yard field-goal attempt by Hayden Epstein.

It was Boulware's pressure that forced Brunell to fumble on a pass attempt with 9:11 left in the third quarter, and four times he chased Brunell from the pocket in the last quarter, when the Jaguars attempted a comeback.

But his signature play came with 13:07 left in the game. Boulware bull-rushed Pearson, forcing Brunell to scramble to his left. Boulware pursued, but was crushed from the blind side. He immediately got back to his feet and chased Brunell out of bounds for a 1-yard loss.

Unbelievable.

"His effectiveness is one of the reasons we're playing so well," said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

And he is only going to get better. Boulware finally has shaken off the rust from an inactive training camp, during which he mostly stayed on the sideline because of offseason ankle surgery.

The rust was evident in the first couple of games. Boulware kept missing tackles. He kept jumping offside, a clear indication of timing problems.

But not anymore.

The repertoire is intact again. There is the quick-burst, see-ya-later speed rush to the outside. Then there is the spin underneath, which is set up by the speed rush. Then there is the bull rush, which Boulware didn't have years ago because he lacked bulk.

Now his game is complete.

"He is taking his game to another level because he is studying more, putting in more preparation time," said linebackers coach Mike Smith.

Said Nolan: "He is good at coverage, too. We're utilizing all his strengths."

The main one is versatility.

Look, he is over here. Look, he is over there.

The only place you can be sure to find Boulware these days is close to the quarterback.

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