A good defense best at making better day

Ravens 30, Steelers 13

September 20, 2004|By David Steele

YES, THE SAYING "The best offense is a good defense" has been around a long time, and, yes, it has fit the Ravens perfectly for years. But this is ridiculous.

On days like this, when the Ravens' defensive players had their hands on the ball nearly as much as the Steelers' offensive players and when they score almost as much as their own offense, you start wondering to what extreme an old saying can be taken.

Unfortunately, we all might find out soon. Todd Heap had to be helped off the field late in the first half of yesterday's punch-out of the Steelers in the home opener. If Heap's ankle keeps him out of Sunday's game in Cincinnati, the Ravens' offensive well will be as dry as it has ever been, which is saying a lot.

With that in mind, though, here are a few suggestions for emergency fill-ins at the various depleted skill positions: Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Adalius Thomas, Gary Baxter. That's just from among the Ravens' defenders who directly intervened in the Steelers' attempts to move the ball yesterday. You know that if given a chance, Ray Lewis and several others would love to switch sides as well.

In all fairness, none of this might have meant as much had the offense not chewed up the clock, the Steelers' defense and 90 yards of turf on the first series of the game. The drive may have set a tone, but as Lewis later said, "We set the tempo."

As Suggs put it - paraphrasing a few dozen Ravens defenders over the years - "We like to play [offense] on the other side of the line of scrimmage."

Not just like to, have to. "We've got to have big plays so we can set up our offense," he added, "or it's going to be a long day for us."

The inability to force a turnover, or to come very close, was the unit's most glaring flaw in Cleveland, even more than the two big pass plays. "We gave up two this week, too, but we won," Thomas said. That's because the defense made so many more of its own this time.

The Ravens got the defensive touchdown for which they're always so greedy from McAlister on a late interception return. McAlister barely missed an interception earlier in the game, when his dive came up just short. So did Reed (who saw his miss get scooped up by Hines Ward and turned into a 58-yard gain). Thomas did get one, and had his momentum not caused him to stumble, he might also have had a big return.

Thomas also blocked two passes at the line, and one was yet another close call; Tommy Maddox batted it down to prevent a pickoff. Then there were the four sacks from four different players, three by the secondary. The pressure came from everywhere all the time.

All that and Deion Sanders touched the ball only once, on a punt return, before leaving with a sore hamstring. With all due respect, though, he was always a luxury, and yesterday his defensive cohorts proved why.

The mayhem culminated in a third-quarter, third-and-long blitz deep in Steelers territory that produced a strip of Maddox by Baxter, a recovery and return by Suggs, a penalty for a chop block on Lewis that barely slowed the blitz but did nudge the ball closer to the goal line, an ensuing touchdown from about 1 foot away and a knockout of the starting quarterback.

No, it wasn't a perfect day. "I should have scored. I guess I've got to get more speed," Suggs said. "I was looking for Ed to pitch it to him."

Same lament from Reed on his near-miss, when the ball shot through his hands with no one around him and into Ward's.

"It was the easiest thing I have ever seen in my life. I saw myself down the sideline to the end zone," he said.

Once again, there weren't many times a Ravens offensive player could say that. Had the offense taken more advantage of what it was given, the final might have been 50-13.

But as usual, thinking about what might have been done or could have been done is pointless. The offense is what it is. Yesterday, it was better than what it had been the week before in Cleveland. But today it's potentially less potent, at least if Heap's injury is as serious as it seemed at the time.

If the offense could only get as much production from the fill-ins as the defense is getting. Praise for the front seven flowed from everyone in the Ravens' locker room, and that was special because one of its most critical components, nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, was making his first start.

Yes, he was disappointed he didn't show up more in the final stats. "Came close a few times, though," he said with satisfaction.

Maybe next time, for him and the entire defense. More deflections, more sacks, more picks, more runbacks, more hands on and around the ball. More of the best offense being a good ... you know.

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