Ravens aiming to slow flow of Indy's offense

Defense out to be physical with high-powered Colts

Billick: `We want a slugfest'

Containing Manning is key to keeping playoff pace

Ravens vs. Colts

December 19, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

As Peyton Manning teeters on the brink of making history tonight, the Ravens are determined not to become it.

The defining point of the Ravens' season has arrived in a nationally televised showdown at the RCA Dome, where they have essentially put their playoff hopes and defensive reputation on the line against the Indianapolis Colts.

It's a classic confrontation between the Ravens' ball-hawking defense and the Colts' prolific offense, between a unit that lives for turnovers and an attack that thrives on touchdowns.

The Ravens' charge is as direct as it is daunting: Make a stand or take a chance of slipping out of the postseason picture.

"We are going into Indianapolis in the worst possible situation," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We are going against an explosive offense and the best quarterback, who is going for a record. We will have to see if we are the Ravens defense everybody talks about. We need to live up to our reputation."

That reputation includes allowing just 10 teams to score three or more passing touchdowns in coach Brian Billick's six-year, 100-game tenure.

This excellence was tarnished two weeks ago, when the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer threw for three touchdowns against the Ravens in the fourth quarter alone. But all would be forgotten if they could cool off the NFL's hottest quarterback.

Manning has thrown for 46 touchdowns, which is more than any other team has total touchdowns this season except for the Kansas City Chiefs (50).

With three more, he would eclipse the 20-year-old single-season record set by Dan Marino. The Ravens' defense, which has given up an NFL-low 10 passing touchdowns in 13 games, believes it has a larger mission than worrying about that mark.

"If you go into it trying to stop the record, then you're going into the game with the wrong purpose," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Our purpose is to win a football game."

A win in Week 15 is critical for the Ravens (8-5).

If they upset Indianapolis (10-3) and the Denver Broncos lose at Kansas City, the Ravens would control their fate for the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.

If the Ravens lose and the Broncos win, the Ravens would need to win their remaining games and the Broncos to collapse in the final two weeks to reach the postseason.

"They understand that this is a playoff atmosphere," Billick said. "With a huge respect for what we're going into, I don't know if anybody is afraid of the circumstances."

In fact, Billick wants the Ravens to strike a menacing pose, a stark contrast to the Colts' finesse style.

He wants his pass rush to punish Manning, and his cornerbacks to jam Indianapolis' receivers off the line of scrimmage. He wants his offensive line to wear down the Colts' smaller defensive front, and running back Jamal Lewis to run over them.

"You've got to be physical with them, and I think we can do that," Billick said. "They want it to be a track meet, and we want a slugfest. That's what we'll try to make it."

How much punch the Ravens can deliver in a slugfest depends on the health of Jamal Lewis.

The defending NFL rushing champion has a tender right ankle and has had trouble cutting. His effectiveness is key to attacking the 20th-ranked run defense and eating up the clock, which reduces the amount of time Manning has the ball.

"If he gets 30 carries, it's going to be a long day for us," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Hopefully we can put him in some longer-yardage situations and hopefully we can get ahead and let the circumstances hold him under 25 carries."

It could be a long day for the Ravens if their defense fails to deliver.

The Colts are on pace to set the NFL record for points scored in a season, averaging 34.9 a game. But top-flight defenses have been their undoing.

Of the 10 teams the Colts have played, only two (Jacksonville and New England) rank among the top 15 in total defense and they have accounted for two of Indianapolis' three losses this season. The Ravens rank sixth in defense and fourth in fewest points allowed (15.8).

"Without a doubt, I consider them the best defense in the league," said Colts receiver Brandon Stokley, an ex-Raven. "It's going to be a great matchup. I know we're looking forward to it; I know they're looking forward to it."

The Colts represent the ultimate challenge, from the game's highest-rated quarterback to the league's leading rusher (Edgerrin James) to the most productive trio of receivers (Stokley, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne).

But backing off is not an option for a defense that has forced 29 turnovers and scored six touchdowns.

"You're facing the new Greatest Show on Turf," Ravens defensive end Tony Weaver said. "It's as big as a regular-season game gets."

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