Hartwell holds key for Ravens vs. Portis

Trying to stop Bronco matter of personal pride

October 24, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ed Hartwell doesn't mean to disrespect the Denver Broncos' Clinton Portis by not including him as one of the league's top five running backs.

Fact is, the Ravens' linebacker refuses to make such a list and is approaching trying to contain Portis in the same manner he would as if he were facing the league's worst running back when the Ravens play host to the Broncos on Sunday.

For Hartwell, every week and running back are the same.

"You take it personal facing any running back," said Hartwell, who is second on the Ravens with 58 tackles, 30 fewer than Ray Lewis. "It's not just because he's Clinton Portis. He's a running back coming in here trying to run against our defense, and we take great pride against the run in this defense.

"He came in here last time and we got after him. So when he comes in this time, we're definitely going to get after him. We're going to spank his butt when he comes in here, that's what we plan to do."

Portis is fourth in the AFC with 596 rushing yards despite missing a game with a sternum injury. Fully recovered, Portis, who has rushed for 100 yards in four of his six games, will likely be on a collision course with Hartwell and Ray Lewis since the Broncos are starting third-string quarterback Danny Kanell.

Just how important is Hartwell in the overall defensive scheme if the Ravens are to contain Portis as they did last season (eight carries, 55 yards, no touchdowns)? "He's vital, critical," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.

"He's got to attack the line of scrimmage all day long to stop the run of a guy like Portis. And sometimes, he'll have to cover him. The success this week will be heavy not just on the linebackers but the front seven."

The challenge could not have come at a better time for Hartwell, who coaches say has played his best of the season the past two games.

Hartwell recorded seven tackles and the second two-sack game of his career in Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The first sack of Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna came on an inside blitz in the second quarter, resulting in a 10-yard loss and subsequent three-and-out.

A week earlier, Hartwell forced a fumble, made a jarring hit on Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake and finished behind Lewis with seven tackles.

Hartwell has to make his plays on first or second down because, unlike last year, he is no longer on the field in obvious passing situations because of Lewis' return. That is costing him about a dozen snaps.

"In the last two games particularly, Ed has played very well," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I know that he would like to do more, but he knows that Ray is the recognized leader and within that context, he has been excellent. The last two games were the soundest Ed has played. He is being asked to do a lot of things so other guys can do some things, and that is a lot to ask of a young man."

Essentially, what the Ravens are asking of Hartwell is to be one of the first linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage and take on offensive linemen. That sometimes frees up teammates to make the tackle or forces the running back to go where there is no hole.

"Sometimes you see a lot of players go in the line and get kicked out," Hartwell said. "We call it getting kicked out the club. I'm pretty good at not getting kicked out the club. I don't mind battling with these guys. I don't fear going in there and taking on 350-pound linemen because this game is about leverage."

The fearlessness is what coaches appreciate.

"I think Ed is a very selfless player," linebackers coach Mike Singletary said. "He's doing his job. You can call it grunt work or whatever, but for this defense to be all of what it can be, he has to."

Only San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 100 yards against the Ravens this season, needing 23 attempts to do so. The longest rush by a running back is 17 yards, accomplished by the Cardinals' Marcel Ship and Tomlinson.

Of the 137 runs by running backs, only 12 have resulted in double-digit gains.

"Every running back that comes into Baltimore knows they are going to go home sore, and there is a 90 percent chance they are going to go home without a 100-yard game," Hartwell said. "They know that, and I think a lot of running backs fear us. I take a lot of pride in that."

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