As the Ravens flew to San Diego yesterday to avoid Hurricane Isabel, their thoughts were on grounding Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers' running back is the centerpiece - and the only productive piece - in what has been a puzzling start for winless San Diego.
Big-name receiver David Boston has been hurt. Quarterback Drew Brees has been inconsistent.
When it comes to stopping the Chargers offense Sunday, the Ravens are in agreement where it begins.
"If we're going to be successful, it's got to start with him," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "He's the heart and soul of the offense."
Tomlinson, meet the heart and soul of the Ravens' defense.
Stonewalling running backs is not only a priority, but also an attitude. The Ravens don't believe teams can run against them, and no one has proved them wrong the first two weeks of the regular season.
The Ravens have limited offenses to 2.7 yards a carry, which is tied for second place in the NFL.
Of the 54 attempts against them, 10 have been for negative yards (19 percent) and 23 have been for 2 yards or fewer (43 percent). The longest gain has been 12 yards, and the Ravens have surrendered just three runs of more than 9 yards.
"We have a standard that you live by," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "We set our standards very high."
But the Ravens' impressive run-stopping totals have come against such running backs as the Pittsburgh Steelers' Amos Zereoue and Cleveland Browns' William Green.
The challenge is to do the same against Tomlinson, one of the top backs the Ravens will face all season.
San Diego's slow starts in its first two games have taken Tomlinson out of the game plan early. That's why he ranks eighth in the AFC in rushing (127 yards on 29 carries).
The Ravens, though, know how dangerous he is.
Tomlinson rushed for 1,236 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie and followed it up with club-record 1,683 yards last season to finish second to the Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams for the rushing title.
"No doubt, he's a bigger threat than the previous backs we've faced," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "He's capable of having an explosive game."
Tomlinson leads the Chargers in rushing and receiving (10 catches), which isn't much of a shock considering the state of San Diego's passing attack.
Boston is questionable with a bruised left heel that sidelined him Sunday, and another starting receiver, Reche Caldwell, could miss the rest of the season with a fractured wrist.
The Chargers' remaining receivers are Eric Parker, Tim Dwight and Kassim Osgood.
"I don't care how healthy their receivers are or aren't, you're going to see a lot of Tomlinson," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's one of the dynamic backs in the game. I can't imagine any team playing San Diego that doesn't begin with the focus of: Where is Tomlinson?"
Despite the injury to Boston and the rough start of Brees (38-for-74 for 384 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions), the Ravens don't think it will be any easier containing San Diego's Pro Bowl back.
"You've got to be careful," said linebacker Ray Lewis, who leads the Ravens with 28 tackles. "It's like a wounded dog in a corner. He's going to do whatever it takes to come out of it."
Trying to break out against the Ravens has historically been trouble.
Over the previous four seasons, the Ravens have never ranked lower than third in yards allowed per carry.
"There's a legacy there," Billick said. "Obviously, it begins with Ray and Peter and their familiarity of the Super Bowl team. They understand what that looks like and the fitting of the pieces."
But those pieces have come in different shapes.
Instead of having big-bodied tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa from their Super Bowl days, there's a leaner look with linemen Weaver, Kelly Gregg and Marques Douglas.
"We were bullies then," Lewis said. "We're just more athletic than people now. You try to run away from us, now everybody runs you down instead of just linebackers."
Although the Ravens have had a solid start in stuffing the run, Lewis said this group is still a couple of years away from challenging the dominance of the Ravens' defense from 2000 and 2001.
"Even that Super Bowl team, it took three or four years to jell before all the pieces were together," Lewis said. "It's going to be the same thing with this one."