Ravens in a rush to slow Martin

QB Pennington's out, so defense focuses on Jets running back

September 29, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

One by one yesterday, a Ravens defensive player was surrounded by reporters and was asked repeatedly about Brooks Bollinger, the New York Jets' third string-turned-starting quarterback.

How do you prepare for an unknown passer? Will you blitz more often to rattle him? Does he alter the game plan for the defense?

It was at that point that linebacker Ray Lewis set the record straight where the Ravens' defensive focus lies.

"You can actually go play quarterback for them this week and just hand the ball off to Curtis Martin," Lewis said. "Seriously, [Chad] Pennington is a great quarterback and you'll miss somebody like that. But never take attention off of Curtis Martin."

Bollinger, who has thrown nine passes in his NFL career, has drawn the intrigue. Martin, the league's fourth all-time leading rusher, has drawn the Ravens' respect.

Knowing Bollinger's inexperience, the Ravens expect the Jets to rely heavily on Martin to carry the offensive load.

"We'll deal with the quarterback but our biggest problem is definitely Curtis Martin," defensive end Terrell Suggs said.

Martin, though, has had his own problems to tackle.

After leading the NFL in rushing last season, he is averaging 2.8 yards per carry this year, the second-worst three-game start of his 11-year career. His 196 yards rushing ranks 18th in the league.

Part of the struggles, Martin says, has been all three defenses (Kansas City, Miami and Jacksonville) stacking the line of scrimmage to take away the run. The Ravens, who rank fifth in the NFL against the run, likely will do the same.

"This is the toughest schedule that I have ever played as far as run defenses," Martin said. "It doesn't get any harder. These are all the teams you wouldn't pick if you wanted to be a productive offense."

The Ravens are more concerned with what Martin did last season, when he had his first 100-yard rushing day in four games against them, than his poor start this year.

In the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win over New York last season, Martin finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns, gaining 68 of his yards in the first half. He was one of four running backs - Kansas City's Priest Holmes, New England's Corey Dillon and Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis were the others - to crack 100 yards against the Ravens last season.

"We can't let that happen again," coach Brian Billick said. "We were lucky to come out of the game with a win based on the way they ran the ball."

According to the Ravens, their run defense was undone by the Jets' spread-them-out scheme.

New York played three- and four-wide formations, which forced the Ravens to go with their dime package (four linemen, one linebacker and six defensive backs). That left the Jets' five offensive linemen to go after the Ravens' four linemen and Lewis, the lone linebacker.

Most of Martin's yards were produced by attacking the middle of the defense.

"It was like five-on-five and you needed somebody to make a miraculous play," Suggs said. "We can't have that. We've got to change the math on them. We have to squeeze that box down tight. We have to give Ray and our front four a lot more help."

A critical matchup for the Ravens is nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu against the Jets' Kevin Mawae, a six-time Pro Bowl center.

Kemoeatu, a first-year starter, has the edge in strength and size (a 61-pound advantage). But Mawae is much quicker and is able to pull out to the perimeter as a lead blocker.

"Next to Curtis Martin, he is the one that makes the wheel goes round in the running game," Kemoeatu said. "He is the backbone of the offensive line. He makes everything work. If I can somehow slow him down, I can give our defense an advantage."

Stopping the run is a long-standing tradition for the Ravens.

They have been among the top three in the NFL in rushing average for the past six seasons, giving up 3.4 yards per carry over that span. The Ravens are also tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for allowing the fewest 100-yard rushers (12) over the past five seasons.

"A new quarterback shouldn't change the way you prepare for this game," Lewis said. "They have a great offensive line and a great running game. That's what we're built to play for and that's what we're ready for."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Running on the Ravens

The Ravens were 1-3 last season when allowing a 100-yard rusher:

Date Opp. Running back Att.-Yds. Result

10-4 K.C. Priest Holmes 33-125 L, 27-24

11-14 N.Y.J. Curtis Martin 28-119 W, 20-17

11-28 N.E. Corey Dillon 30-123 L, 24-3

12-26 Pitt. Jerome Bettis 27-117 L, 20-7

Jets@Ravens Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 7

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