Making stand vs. Broncos is goal for Ravens' defense

No. 9 defense has allowed 52 points in past 2 weeks

October 23, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Out of the NFL for two years, Denver Broncos quarterback Danny Kanell is sort of a mystery.

The same could be said about the Ravens' defense these days.

Once known for shutouts, the Ravens' wall on the goal line is showing some cracks. The Ravens have surrendered 126 points this season - which ranks 18th in the NFL and represents their most points allowed over a six-game start since 1997.

In their defense, fluke plays have been converted into touchdowns and turnovers have paved short paths to the end zone. But a defense surrounded by high expectations offers no excuses for tight ends running free over the middle and teams marching 70 yards.

Over the past two weeks, offenses ranked 26th (Arizona Cardinals) and 24th (Cincinnati Bengals) have combined for 52 points and four scoring drives of 70-plus yards, which excludes the 82-yard strike from Jon Kitna to Chad Johnson.

Next come the Broncos, who are down to their third-string quarterback but still are loaded with weapons that have made them the NFL's seventh-highest scoring team. The challenge for the Ravens is to field the defense that blanketed the Kansas City Chiefs and not the one that fluttered against the Bengals.

"I'm not particularly concerned about it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of his defense. "That group is very competitive and has a lot of pride."

The sore spot of the season came in Sunday's loss in Cincinnati.

The Ravens allowed two fumbles to be converted into early touchdowns when they had previously held teams to field goals. Then, down 24-7 at halftime, the Ravens allowed the Bengals to open the third quarter by methodically moving 72 yards for a field goal.

"We just have to turn it up," cornerback Corey Fuller said. "We know we didn't play Raven defense last week."

The Ravens won't have the benefit of an extensive scouting report on Kanell, who was pushed into the starting role after Jake Plummer (foot) and Steve Beuerlein (finger) went down with injuries.

Kanell last played in the league in 2000 with the Atlanta Falcons. He then moved to minor league baseball in 2001 before landing in the Arena Football League last season.

"A scheme is a scheme," Billick said. "They are pretty similar to when Brian Griese was there. I think we have enough information to draw up an idea of what they may try to do."

Kanell, 29, showed little rust last Sunday when he led the Broncos on two scoring drives and had them moving again before the final drive stalled in a 28-20 loss to Minnesota. He finished 12-for-18 for 104 yards and a touchdown.

"Whoever they put in at quarterback is going to execute that offense," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "So, you can't think they're laying down because they don't have Jake Plummer or Steve Beuerlein."

The Ravens' defense, which is ranked ninth overall in the league, is prepared to go on the offensive Sunday. Pressure has caused problems for a Broncos line that has allowed at least two sacks in three of its past four games.

"I don't think we're going to let him sit back there," said linebacker Ray Lewis, who acknowledged he didn't know Kanell had returned to the league. "We're going to come after him, see if he can read and still play football."

The one constant for the Ravens has been their run defense.

They have allowed only 3.5 yards per rush, which is fifth best in the league. With Kanell at quarterback, the Broncos likely will stay on the ground with fleet-footed running back Clinton Portis.

"We don't believe in 100-yard backs," Lewis said. "So if they want to give it to him 25 to 30 times, we'll find out if Clinton Portis is as good as everybody says he is."

Last season, Portis said Lewis "ain't nothing spectacular" after seeing a few highlight films of the Ravens' defensive leader. Portis then had 55 yards on eight carries in Denver's 34-23 loss.

"Like with your children, they're young and they'll understand it later on," Lewis said. "Clinton is a great athlete but sometimes you get caught up in the emotions. He didn't know what he was dealing with until he got to Baltimore. Hopefully, he'll learn."

On Sunday, the Ravens' defense will show if it has learned the lessons from recent weeks.

"We are good, but we have to say, `Humble yourself,' " strong safety Ed Reed said. "It's got to stop being, `Well, we could be.' Instead, it should be, `This is where we're at. This is what we need to focus on.'"

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Denver Broncos (5-2) vs. Ravens (3-3)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 1 1/2

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