Wounded pride driving defense to pick up pace

Embarrassed by Chiefs, RavensM-F unit savors chance to rebound in return to national TV

Ravens Vs. Redskins

October 10, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Amid the daily commotion surrounding Jamal Lewis' plea agreement and NFL suspension has been a silence stretching from the Ravens' locker room to the practice field.

The unspoken mission in tonight's game at FedEx Field is redemption, a simmering drive to restore the national reputation of the team's defense.

Six days ago, the Ravens' traditionally strong group was embarrassed on Monday Night Football, getting shoved all over the field. After nursing their wounds - which included a gash across the bridge of Ray Lewis' nose - the Ravens (2-2) are determined to hand out the punishment this time.

With a second chance on national television, they are seeking to vent their frustrations against their equally miffed rival, the Washington Redskins (1-3), losers of three straight games.

"That's a prideful group," coach Brian Billick said of his defense. "They don't like what happened the other night. I've seen that look in their eye before."

Once among the most-feared defenses in the NFL, the Ravens can't make the claim they're the best on the field tonight statistically.

Despite returning every starter from last season's third-ranked unit, they have crashed to No. 21 this season because of a lack of communication and cohesion, according to some players.

The Redskins, meanwhile, have excelled with new coordinator Gregg Williams' aggressive style of run and pass blitzes. Washington is the fourth-stingiest defense and the best against the run.

If this "Battle of the Beltways" is going to be decided by defense, the Ravens said they are mentally ready for the challenge.

"A lot of guys are not really talking. We're just honing in on what we have to do," Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter said. "We know how serious things are right now. We didn't play too well on Monday night. We have a chance on Sunday night to redeem ourselves. You can just sense it in there."

Payback strikes a personal chord for Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

When he held the same position with the Redskins in 1999, he was criticized frequently by Daniel Snyder. The Washington owner complained Nolan's schemes were too plain and "vanilla."

One day during his only season under Snyder, Nolan came back to his office to find tubs of vanilla ice cream on his desk. Asked about the incident, Nolan declined to comment but didn't deny it occurred.

"It was the toughest year in my coaching career, but what's always the case is the toughest years are the best ones for you," Nolan said. "You learn a lot more in difficult situations than you do easy."

What the rest of the league learned, some observers said, is how to attack the Ravens' defense after Monday's 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs ran at inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartwell, putting a blocker in Lewis' face and taking advantage of Hartwell's tentativeness. By sending a fullback or guard at Lewis, it kept him from roaming sideline to sideline or shooting the gaps.

Bring up that other teams may have found a blueprint to crack the Ravens' defense and the players snap right back.

"Let the next team come in and try it," Hartwell said. "Like I said, one game will not make a team."

Still, the Ravens' aura of dominance has apparently faded.

Redskins H-back Mike Sellers even called Lewis overrated.

"I don't think he's as good as a lot of people say he is," Sellers said. "He's a great sideline-to-sideline player, but filling the holes? I don't think so. That's just one opinion, though."

The Ravens' 30-mile drive down the interstate will be a trip down memory lane, where they will once again meet quarterback Mark Brunell.

When he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brunell had more success than any other NFL quarterback against the Ravens, recording seven 300-yard passing games in 12 meetings.

But their paths haven't crossed in two seasons.

"He has different assets than what he had then," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "We're a different team then than we are right now."

Brunell has come under fire in his first season with the Redskins, taking the blame for Washington scoring just 16, 14, 18 and 13 points in the first four games.

"We have every reason to be concerned," Brunell said. "We're not playing smart football. We're not moving the ball, obviously not scoring enough points, so we've got some work to do."

The biggest concern for the Ravens is whether they can run the ball against Washington.

The Redskins have held teams to 2.5 yards a carry. But the backs they've faced so far (Tampa Bay's Charlie Garner, the New York Giants' Tiki Barber, Dallas' Eddie George and Cleveland's Lee Suggs) aren't the same caliber as Jamal Lewis, the Ravens' running back who faces a two-game suspension after tonight.

Lewis became subject to punishment from the league after he pleaded guilty to using a telephone to help facilitate the sale of cocaine. Having that season-long burden of a possible federal trial lifted from him, the Ravens are expecting a spirited effort from the All-Pro.

"Even though he has dealt with this very well, I can't help but imagine that it's a bit of a relief," Billick said. "It allows him to free his mind up totally now because there is definition, which should allow him to be relaxed and do his job."

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