Slowing big, mobile McNabb is tall order

On the Ravens

October 30, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

ONE OF the Ravens' goals may be to shut down and shut up Terrell Owens, but their main mission is to control quarterback Donovan McNabb. Without McNabb, there is no Owens. Without Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles offense becomes extremely limited.

With that said, how do the Ravens plan to stop McNabb tomorrow at Lincoln Financial Field? No one else has.

"I think the biggest thing that makes McNabb so good is that, as a defensive coordinator, you don't know if you should blitz the guy or sit back," said Detroit defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson, whose Lions were blown out, 30-13, by the Eagles earlier this year.

"When you blitz, you see guys falling off him. We can't get him down. ... We're putting our secondary on an island back there, and he knows where the open guy is," Wilkinson said.

McNabb and Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper have become the epitome of the mobile quarterback. But they take it a step further. They're huge, virtual tight ends taking snaps. Culpepper is 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds. McNabb is 6-2 and 240.

They should charge admission for taking defensive players for a ride.

"He [McNabb] is doing what I've done in the past, and still doing, which is move around," said Ravens backup quarterback Kordell Stewart, who used to aggravate the Ravens when he was with Pittsburgh. "He is being strong on all things. Physically, he is a strong man, and his teammates believe in him. Just as importantly, the head coach believes in him. He has a good supporting cast, and now that he has T.O., he is doing things he couldn't do before."

McNabb could always scramble and improvise, but couldn't connect on a long pass because he didn't have a deep threat. Now he has Owens, who has hooked up with McNabb for six catches of 40 yards or longer. McNabb is spraying the ball all over the field.

He's off to his best start ever, having completed 140 of 213 passes for 1,753 yards and 13 touchdowns. Philadelphia, averaging 28.5 points, is allowing two sacks per game, but they're also averaging nearly 280 passing yards.

So how do you control McNabb? Do you blitz him often, or do you sit in coverage with five defensive backs most of the game?

When Stewart was in Pittsburgh, it was common for opposing teams to use a "spy," or a player designated to shadow Stewart. Sometimes it was a linebacker or a safety.

"Wherever I took off, that person would try to meet me at the line of scrimmage," said Stewart, who rushed for 2,561 yards in eight seasons with the Steelers. "That became a standard in the league because there are so many mobile quarterbacks playing right now. But these days, there is so much speed on defense that you don't have to try that any more, and you let the scheme take care of itself."

Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas says it's a boxing match against McNabb. You feel him out early, then make adjustments.

He says there are many sides to McNabb.

"All the things have to be taken into account as the game goes on. You got to get a feel for how he is playing," Thomas said. "Is he willing to take a chance, run down field and take a hit, or is he going to slide or throw the ball away? When he gets outside the pocket, is he giving his players time to get deep to chuck it? Some games he takes off, some games he will chuck it. You have to see how he is feeling."

In certain situations, you've got to have a game on to make sure somebody spies on him from time to time, depending on the coverage, and if it's a blitz or a normal rush. The key is always to make sure he is contained."

It seems impossible.

"Our challenge is definitely cut out for us, and we look forward to it," Thomas said.

Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter doesn't want to be patient. He wants constant pressure on McNabb with blitzes. He has watched too much film of McNabb sitting in the pocket, waiting, and then picking apart defenses.

Baxter might need a track suit instead of football gear.

"The Eagles just don't care, they love to throw deep," Baxter said. "McNabb has some playmakers, guys who will go get the ball. Let's go beat him up. Bring it, and stay after him. You can't let him get comfortable in the pocket, but you don't want him running around, either."

The Ravens will most likely blitz McNabb often. It's their style. This defense seldom changes its philosophy for any team. A key will be discipline, especially with the defensive linemen who must stay in their lanes when rushing McNabb so he can't roam.

The Ravens have the team speed to match McNabb. Ends Tony Weaver and Marques Douglas might be undersized, but they run extremely well. There aren't too many better athletes at outside linebacker than Thomas. The Ravens have shut down similar quarterbacks to McNabb, including Steve McNair and Michael Vick, in the past.

But none was as hot as McNabb is now. In practice with the Eagles, McNabb sees the same disguised blitzes the Ravens run.

"I think the way to approach the defense is the way we've been approaching every week," McNabb said. "Just focus in on the game plan, understand about the personnel which we're playing against, the blitz schemes that we'll probably face, and just try to take advantage of the opportunities."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (4-2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (6-0)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Eagles by 7 1/2

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