Ravens drawing a bead on Blake

Defense hopes to rattle former teammate, force Cards' QB into turnovers

October 12, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In a game that begs them to let down their guard, the Ravens are plotting a desert ambush of their own.

Today's game between the Ravens (2-2) and the Arizona Cardinals (1-4) at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., pits two teams heading in opposite directions and one quarterback standing as the focal point.

Going against their starting quarterback for much of last season, the Ravens have zeroed in on Jeff Blake just seven months after a curt parting of the ways. By the Ravens' estimation, familiarity may breed contempt but it won't help Blake in going against a motivated defense.

"He hasn't seen anything like this," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Just like last year with Jeff in practice: When we wanted to quiet Jeff's mouth, we knew how to quiet Jeff's mouth out. We just go out and intercept all his passes. But Jeff has never seen us serious."

The Ravens anticipate Blake will be jawing, but they won't be responding. In fact, when asked about the improvement of the pass defense the past three games, free safety Gary Baxter placed his index finger over his mouth.

After a terrible start in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have quietly moved up to No. 9 in the league against the pass.

Quarterbacks have completed a solid 59.7 percent of their throws against the Ravens but have averaged a scant 6 yards per attempt. The Ravens' strategy is to eliminate the big plays and make solid tackles on the underneath passes.

"We want to stay low-key," Baxter said. "We know we have the talent and can get the job done. Now, it's a matter of: Are we going to get it done or are we going to talk about it?"

Talking has been key to the Ravens' jelling as a secondary.

After ranking 26th in pass defense a year ago, the Ravens are a more mature group since the days Blake bet defensive backs $500 if they could pick him off in practice. The addition of free-agent cornerback Corey Fuller has brought much-needed experience to a defensive backfield that has emerging young stars in Baxter, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Chris McAlister.

"The communication that goes on with that group is as good as I've seen since I've been here," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

To stop Blake and the Cardinals, the Ravens have to continue to shut down the big plays. In their past three games, the Ravens have surrendered only three passes of more than 20 yards -one in the past six quarters.

Arizona thrives on throwing deep crossing routes, racking up 15 passes that have covered 20 yards or more. Nine of those big catches have come from rookie receiver Anquan Boldin, who excels at running after the catch.

"Jeff takes pride in the deep ball," Billick said. "That's a big part of their game. If there is a hole in a zone, Jeff has the veteran experience to know and has the arm to get it there."

From the Ravens' experience, the best way to get to Blake's head is to get to him in the pocket. The Ravens remember all too well Blake's 11 interceptions and eight fumbles in 10 starts last year.

"We all know Jeff and what his thought process is going to be," Lewis said. "He's a big-arm man and wants to throw the ball downfield. If you get pressure on Jeff, sooner or later he goes back into form."

Besides taking on Blake, the Ravens have to resist the temptation of overlooking their next two opponents - Arizona and Cincinnati - which are a combined 2-8. Winning these back-to-back games could provide some breathing room for the Ravens, who lead the AFC North by a half game.

"They are going to be the two toughest games of the season," Lewis said. "It's easy to get up for someone who has a winning record and big-name people. But when you come against an Arizona and Cincinnati, that can be scary. A team can get into a lazy mode."

The Ravens have been blunt in their estimation of the Cardinals, whose losses have been by an average of 24.3 points.

When asked about running back Marcel Shipp replacing the injured Emmitt Smith, Ravens linebacker Ed Hartwell said, "Everyone knows if he was better than Emmitt, he would have been starting and not Emmitt."

When asked about the massive Arizona front four, Ravens running back Jamal Lewis said, "They're real big, but that really doesn't make a difference. You can get them moving and I think they can tire out."

The motivation for this game rests on former teammates looking to get the last word.

"It will be a huge game for Jeff," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "But it's important to our guys, too."

Ravens today

Matchup: Ravens (2-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-4)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

Time: 4:15 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2Inside

Scouting report, rosters, statistics and more. [Page 14e]

Preston: Ravens' offensive line keeps it simple. [Page 15e]

Week 6 previews, NFL rankings and more. [Page 13e]

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