Ravens secondary not taking back seat

After loss in '04 opener, group wary of Colts

September 06, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

At the time, the Ravens didn't see much good out of last year's season-opening loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The defeat to a team that eventually finished tied for the second-worst record in the NFL set a bad vibe for a season in which the Ravens finished a game out of the final playoff spot. It was one of the biggest upset losses in team history.

But a year later, as the Ravens prepare to begin a new season hosting the high-powered Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, a lesson learned from that game can be applied and highlighted this week.

Two broken plays in the secondary led to big gains, the first a 46-yard touchdown pass that turned the game in favor of the Browns, followed by a 51-yard completion from Jeff Garcia to Andre Davis the next drive that set up a field goal.

A big reason for those plays was botched communication in a secondary that had not practiced together during the preseason.

Now the Ravens find themselves in the same predicament. Injuries have kept nickel backs Deion Sanders and Dale Carter from appearing in the same preseason game together, and starter Samari Rolle missed the final two games with an injured knee.

"Obviously, because of the way the injuries have evolved through all three of them, we have yet to put that total package in place," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They've all done what they are going to do; they just haven't done it collectively yet."

It was something the Ravens dealt with last year when Sanders missed all of the preseason after coming back from retirement and Chris McAlister played in only the final game because of a contract dispute.

Overcoming the communication gap appears to be considerably easier this year since Sanders has nine games under his belt and Rolle is the only new addition to the secondary. But the challenge is greater in defending a Colts team that can easily exploit a mix-up in the secondary for a touchdown.

Indianapolis features three receivers, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and former Raven Brandon Stokley, who each had a 1,000-yard season last year. Quarterback Peyton Manning's 49 touchdown passes, primarily to that group, set an NFL record.

The Colts are the last team in the league you want to goof up against in the secondary. Final touches on the defensive game plan were put in yesterday, and the players will know today what their responsibilities are.

"I've been resting my legs, my foot and my body, so I can give it all I got," said Sanders, who sat out the last two preseason games. "I just think we are a better-prepared team."

They certainly are a confident team, one that expects to contain the Colts' passing game. The Ravens did so last year playing nearly the entire game in their dime formation, with Sanders and Chad Williams on the field in place of two linebackers.

Except for Rolle, who replaces Gary Baxter, the Ravens could run that same formation Sunday night that limited the Colts to two field goals in the first half. That unit, with Sanders and Williams in, did have a chance to work together the first two preseason games in passing situations.

The Colts scored two touchdowns in the third quarter en route to a 10-point win, but one came on a 31-yard drive after a blocked field-goal try. It was one of only two games in which the Colts scored fewer than three touchdowns with Manning at quarterback.

Carter made his Ravens debut in the third preseason game against the Saints, and he played nearly two quarters Thursday night against the Washington Redskins.

He may be the odd man out for this first game, but the Ravens are expected to play Carter along with Sanders in the dime package at various times during the season.

"I'm feeling good," Carter said. "Each rep I get, I'm getting better. I'm getting my feet down. The main thing is getting my wind back. The last game, I got that. When coach took me out, I was like, `Dang, already.' I'm ready to go.

"Whatever happens, happens, but I'm going to be ready."

The rest of the secondary, with last year's hiccup still fresh, is feeling the same way.

"I sat with that group before training camp started and talked to them specifically about how important it is for them to develop a personality," Billick said.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Indianapolis Colts at Ravens in season opener

When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13, ESPN/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

Line: Colts by 3

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