Ravens `D' aims for `own identity'

Unit is looking to build new legacy as team faces 2000 architect M. Lewis

October 19, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens' offense deals with the frustrations of its current identity, the team's defense is focused on making a break from an old one.

The AFC North-leading Ravens (3-2) travel to Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, where today they first reacquaint themselves with former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and then draw the battle lines with the first-year Bengals' coach.

Lewis was the architect of one of the NFL's all-time great defenses, calling the shots for a dominating group that spearheaded the Ravens' Super Bowl run three years ago. But instead of embracing their past, the Ravens want to move forward.

"Marvin put his signature on this defense," Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware said. "But if we're going to be good, we're going to have to make that separation. This defense has to become its own identity."

Lewis' signature has faded since he has more of a connection with the Ravens' record book than with the Ravens themselves.

Since Lewis left the Ravens 20 months ago, they went with a new coordinator (Mike Nolan), a new scheme (three linemen instead of four) and a horde of new players. Only three starters on the Ravens' ninth-ranked defense -- Boulware, linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Chris McAlister -- played key roles under Marvin Lewis.

"Marvin was great for us, but at the same time, I think we need to get away from that, too," Ray Lewis said. "He did a great job for our defense as well as this team. But there's a lot of guys that you see here that carry that tradition."

As for the connection between the coaches, the Ravens' Brian Billick believes familiarity will not play a factor.

"You have to do what you do best," Billick said. "And you have to be very careful you don't turn it into a bad Abbott and Costello routine: `I know that he knows that I know that he knows, so I'm going to do such and such.' You can get yourself in trouble like that."

And every defense is quite familiar with the Ravens' offensive game plan. Over the past four games, the Ravens have run the ball 62 percent of the time.

There's little doubt that the Ravens will change that philosophy against the Bengals (1-4). Running back Jamal Lewis, who leads the league with 742 yards rushing, has run for 100 yards in all four of his games against Cincinnati.

"Like [former Nebraska coach] Tom Osborne used to say, `You know we're going to run the option, but you have to stop it,' " Jamal Lewis said. "You know we're going to run the football. You know what plays we run -- either to the outside or the middle. You just have to stop it."

But this one-sided formula took some hits from a few players last week.

Jamal Lewis, who is constantly running against stacked fronts, stressed the need for a passing game to keep defenses off balance. Tight end Todd Heap, who had one catch for 2 yards in last week's win over the Arizona Cardinals, said he was frustrated by the underachieving passing attack.

"These guys know you have to have balance to a certain degree," Billick said. "Those of you that want to intimate that there's frustration or angst in the locker room or division, you're wrong."

Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, who has thrown for fewer than 100 yards in three of his first five starts, said he isn't frustrated because the Ravens are winning.

"Obviously as the quarterback, I would love to throw for 350 yards and five touchdowns," said Boller, whose quarterback rating (48.9) ranks last among NFL starters. "When you're running the ball as effectively as we are, you've got to continue to do that and tell teams to stop us. When we have the opportunity on the outside to make plays, we have to take advantage of that."

Running the ball has taken a historic theme for this game. It was only a month ago when Jamal Lewis broke the single-game rushing record held by the Bengals' Corey Dillon.

The last time the NFL's top two single-game rushers faced each other was Oct. 28, 1979, when Walter Payton (275 yards) and O.J. Simpson (273 yards) played in the same game.

Although Dillon is still bothered by a groin injury, Jamal Lewis has hit his stride and has become the primary target for Cincinnati.

"I think [stopping Jamal Lewis] will affect whether we win or lose the football game," Marvin Lewis said.

Today's game wraps up a season-opening road stretch for the Ravens, who are playing away from home for the fourth time in six games. The Ravens, who hold a half-game lead over the Cleveland Browns for first place in the division, finish out the first half of the season with home games against Denver and Jacksonville.

"We control our destiny right now," Ray Lewis said. "We are sitting at 3-2, and if we can go ahead and take care of these next two to three weeks, it'll be big for us. We know that. It's not like we are taking Cincinnati lightly."

Ravens today

Matchup: Ravens (3-2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1-4)

Site: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 2

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