Ravens guard against letdown

Dominating against Rams, defense says it will play the same against Dolphins

November 14, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After the most dominating defensive performance by the Ravens this year in limiting the high-flying, then-No. 1 St. Louis Rams offense to 121 total yards Sunday, coordinator Mike Nolan is not worrying about a possible letdown.

The Kansas City Chiefs game earlier this season and the maturity of his players relieve him of that potential anxiety heading into Sunday's game against the struggling Miami Dolphins offense and their backup quarterback, Brian Griese.

"I'm counting on the fact that we've got guys that act and carry themselves in a mature way to get us through that," Nolan said. "If we don't play as well, I don't think it has anything to do with us overlooking somebody or a letdown. It would be because we didn't necessarily prepare the way we should have."

Nolan pointed out that the Ravens faced similar circumstances after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season. Undefeated Kansas City, the AFC's top offense, scored just one touchdown against the Ravens, and quarterback Trent Green, who is second in the conference with 2,203 passing yards, threw for just 159.

The defense followed that up by smothering Arizona Cardinals quarterback Jeff Blake on the road the next week, intercepting him three times, sacking him twice and allowing only one meaningful touchdown on the game's first drive in a win.

Kansas City's offense mirrors that of the Rams, whose struggles against the Ravens dropped them from first to seventh in the league. And the Dolphins' offense is not producing any better than the Cardinals. Under Griese, who has been sacked 10 times, fumbled four times and thrown three interceptions the past three games in relief of starter Jay Fiedler, Miami is 1-2.

St. Louis was averaging 288.1 yards passing before meeting the Ravens. The Dolphins have not accumulated more than 264 total yards in any of the past three games.

"We don't want to be a team that has a great performance, then the next week the challenge might not be there for us like this past week and let ourselves down," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "We are not going to play to anyone else's level. We're going to play our defense. We have proven that we can play at a certain level at a high consistency, and that's what we are going to try and do."

The Ravens, whose defense jumped to No. 2 in the league, say they have played well defensively all season and now have the statistics to prove it.

After dominating the Rams, the Ravens are in the top five defensively in nine categories, including rushing yards per attempt (3.5, fifth), sacks (25, tied for fourth) and third-down efficiency (31 percent, fourth).

"We've seen the way this defense performs," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They were absolutely magnificent the other night. And now we got them. Because now I know what it looks like, I know they know what it looks like, and if I see anything different, I can call them out on that."

It has been a steady climb for the Ravens' defense through this season, and no category bears that out more than sacks.

Linebacker Peter Boulware has a three-game streak going, and end Tony Weaver, who lines up at tackle in pass-rushing situations, has five sacks over the past four games.

For Boulware, his battle with Dolphins rookie left tackle Wade Smith would appear to be a mismatch. Smith has given up a combined five sacks the past two weeks to Indianapolis Colts speed rusher Dwight Freeney and the Tennessee Titans' Jevon Kearse.

"Every game in the NFL, you never know what can happen," Boulware said. "I know you can't go into a game thinking you are going to beat somebody. In pass rushing, you have to work hard and hope everything goes your way.

"He's going to get it together and play hard, but hopefully I can do a good job."

Boulware also said there is no way he is taking Smith lightly, which basically sums up the motto he and his fellow defensive players are adopting against the Dolphins' offense this week.

"Whatever team you play, those guys get paid on the other end," Baxter said. "The biggest mistake for a defense off a defensive performance that we had is to go into this next game not well-prepared and taking these guys lightly."

NOTES: Wide receiver Frank Sanders was upgraded from doubtful to questionable yesterday, though he still appears to be a long shot to play against the Dolphins. Tight end John Jones was declared out for the game.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (5-4) vs. Miami Dolphins (5-4)

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Dolphins by 6

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