Winging it against Steelers unlikely

Passing games have hurt Pittsburgh, but Ravens set to stick with ball control

Pro Football

October 25, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The opening week of the season, Tom Brady, New England's heady quarterback best known for his game-management skills, threw 25 consecutive passes against Pittsburgh.

Oakland's Rich Gannon threw a career-high 65 times the next week against the Steelers, and New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks threw for 207 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. All three games were Steelers defeats and seemed to produce a certain blueprint for attacking Pittsburgh's defense - spread it out and throw downfield.

The Ravens, who are 31st in the NFL in pass offense entering Sunday's showdown with Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North, hardly ever spread a team out and have only recently found marginal success throwing downfield.

Even with the progression of quarterback Chris Redman, it would be unreasonable to expect a drastic change from a ball-control offense relying heavily on Jamal Lewis to an air attack.

Instead, much like the previous six games this season, coaches will not ask Redman to win the game but will expect him not to lose it.

"When you say go out and win the game, to me those other quarterbacks won the game with the game plan they had. Chris has to execute our game plan," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We're not going to be in the mode those teams were in. That's not our style. I'd be a little reluctant to say he's got to win the game, but he's got to continue to do what he's been doing the last few weeks: playing real smart, protecting the ball, and making some plays when they are there. That to me is winning the game."

Redman agrees.

"I'm not going to go out there and try and be a different type of quarterback," he said. "I want to go out there and go through the right reads and put the ball where it needs to be. If we do that, I think we'll be in good shape."

The Ravens, who have won three of the past four games, have cut down on mistakes and made enough big plays in the passing game to keep teams from totally focusing on Lewis. Redman has just three interceptions in 182 pass attempts this season, and six touchdowns and one interception in his past four starts.

He threw between 24 and 30 times and completed six passes of 30 yards or more in those four games.

With the Steelers' tendency to blitz from all over the field, the Ravens will see plenty of man-to-man coverage with cornerbacks Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington, giving Redman a chance to increase his number of big plays.

The question will be: Can Redman get the pass off quickly and accurately enough in the limited number of chances he is expected to have?

"You can look at it like we have an opportunity to make big plays under pressure," Redman said. "We're going to go out there and continue what we've been doing the last couple of weeks and play well as a team.

"We'll try and mix it up as much as we can. But different teams have tried different things to try and beat that defense. Basically, it comes down to playing good football, no matter what offense you get into, what formation you get into. You've got to go out there and play well to get yards on this defense."

The Steelers are tied for 25th in the league against the pass, though many of their previous problems in the secondary looked as though they were solved in Monday night's win over Indianapolis.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning threw 48 passes for 304 yards but was sacked twice and picked off three times.

Manning could only produce one touchdown drive and looked confused by the variety of Steelers blitzes. "Peyton didn't have a clue to where we were coming from," safety Lee Flowers said.

"We are just trying to do our part to help this team win, and we are not trying to be the weakest link. I think secondary-wise, we'd been getting so much flak, so much negative publicity that we can't do this, we can't do that. Here we are, we are stepping up to the plate now. If teams want to put the onus on our secondary to make us cover, to make us make plays, then we are going to have to do that."

Cavanaugh said the Steelers were caught off guard by those teams earlier this season and have since reverted to the defense that was the best in the league last year.

"I think they adjusted. They've found a way to pressure people and you're seeing less spread out offense against them now," Cavanaugh said. "It had its run, and maybe some other teams down the road will do it if they feel comfortable spreading themselves out. But that's just not our style. We're getting ready for a real smash-mouth football game."

A gun-slinging quarterback would cringe at that philosophy. For Redman, who said he learned much about himself after the embarrassing 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2, he and the coaches realize it would not be best to stray from what has been successful over the past month.

"This should be a great challenge to go out against some of the best in the league," Cavanaugh said. "By the same token, I don't want Chris to get so caught up in that he doesn't play a smart game and starts doing some things that are extraordinary that we're not asking him to do. If he executes the game plan and it's not good enough, then it's our fault."

NOTES: Linebacker Ray Lewis (shoulder) did not practice yesterday and is still questionable for Sunday's game. Defensive end Michael McCrary (knee) also did not practice and is doubtful. Tackle Ethan Brooks (back/knee, probable), guard Jason Thomas (calf, probable) and kicker J.R. Jenkins (leg, questionable) practiced.

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Pittsburgh Steelers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line:Steelers by 2

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravens

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