Hobbled Ravens defense looking to make a stand

Unit wants to re-establish dominance in preseason game vs. Lions tonight

August 28, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In what amounts to another part-time appearance, the injury-depleted Ravens defense is aiming for a complete performance.

Limited to seven regular starters and one half of work, the Ravens' front-line defenders take on the Detroit Lions (1-1) tonight in a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they want to re-establish themselves as a shutdown unit and not one prone to occasional breakdowns.

The Ravens (1-1) came away from last week's game in Philadelphia with mixed signals.

Their starting defense uncharacteristically allowed two big plays, surrendering an 81-yard touchdown strike and a 62-yard pass. Beyond that, it silenced the Eagles to 32 yards on 20 plays.

"We don't dismiss the big plays," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We are what we did. What we don't want to be is that defense that wins 20 out of 25 plays and has five blunders. As you develop your identity, that's something you don't want to allow. We'd like to think that's not who we are."

The Ravens' starting defense tonight might not resemble the one that lines up in the regular-season opener in a couple of weeks.

Three starters are out with injuries - defensive ends Tony Weaver (ankle) and Marques Douglas (elbow) along with linebacker Peter Boulware (knee) - and cornerback Chris McAlister still has not reported as a protest to being named the franchise player for the second straight year.

Backup linemen Jarret Johnson and rookie Dwan Edwards join reserve cornerback Ray Walls on what has been the league's top-ranked defense of the preseason.

The Ravens have only allowed 417 yards in two games, with a third of that total coming on two pass plays. Last season, the Ravens gave up 33 plays of 20-plus yards, which was second-fewest in the NFL.

"Clearly, that's been our forte defensively," coach Brian Billick said. "We've got to get back to it. We can't give up big plays and expect to win. We do that and we'll be in good shape."

Some of the players have taken positive results from the lapses.

"That's the beauty of our defense: We understand that there's always a chance that we can get beat," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But the true test of great defenses and great teams is what do you do after adversity. I think that showed in that game. Take away those two plays, you're looking at another true dominant game."

The Lions, who were last in the NFL in offense last season, should present a tougher test than what their previous ranking would indicate.

To improve the weapons around quarterback Joey Harrington, Detroit bolstered its receiving corps by drafting Roy Williams in the first round and adding Tai Streets from San Francisco in free agency. Plus, receiver Charles Rogers is back after missing most of his rookie season with a broken collarbone.

"The Lions have talented, big, young receivers," Billick said. "That's going to be a great test for our DBs."

Like its defense, the Ravens offense is looking for a more well-rounded effort, too.

The Ravens have shown they can put together long drives, just not ones that result in touchdowns. Quarterback Kyle Boller has moved the offense into opponents' territory on six of his 10 drives this preseason, but has come away with only 10 points (including one touchdown in the preseason opener).

"We're doing everything we can to get into the end zone," Billick said. "[But] from a coaching standpoint, I would much rather have a 10-play drive with all the teaching that would entail than a 90-yard bomb for a touchdown. Believe me, I'll take that 90-yard bomb for a touchdown because it feels awful good. But you only get so much teaching in that one play."

The consistency problem that hindered Boller as a rookie hasn't improved this preseason. He has completed 51.7 percent of his throws (15-for-29), which nearly matches his 51.8 percent efficiency from last year.

Billick, though, said spotty pass protection has been a factor in Boller's up-and-down summer.

"I'd like to see him be given the time to go through his progression [of reads], so that falls on the offensive line and the backs," Billick said. "It seems like it's taken him a while to get into a rhythm. We need things around him to hold up better. I think he's anxious, rushing himself. He's still very young so he's got to learn to settle himself down earlier."

Ravens tonight

Preseason matchup: Detroit Lions (1-1) vs. Ravens (1-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7) FM

Line: Ravens by 4

Things to watch

Position: Defensive line. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg is the only regular starter left in the front three. Injuries have pressed second-year Jarret Johnson and rookie Dwan Edwards with the first team.

Veteran: Casey Rabach. The four-year reserve gets his first start of the preseason, replacing injured Mike Flynn, who is out at least until Week 6 of the regular season with a broken collarbone, at center. Rabach, though, is still nursing a sprained knee.

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