Defense turns over new leaf

With stars still out, unit sacks Maddox six times, gets two take-aways

Ravens 16, Steelers 13

November 21, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

Sacks and turnovers tend to go hand and hand, and when the Ravens are getting them in bunches like they were yesterday, the players are usually smiling as they walk off the field after the game.

Such was the case in the 16-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. The defense, minus stars Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, got similar production from players such as linebacker Bart Scott and end Terrell Suggs, making life miserable for maligned Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox.

"We threw a lot of different packages at him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We tried to make it tough on him. The guys responded beautifully and made some long [down and distances] for them to try and convert."

For Scott, it was his most meaningful game since replacing Lewis in the lineup nearly a month ago. Scott led the Ravens with nine tackles. He also sacked Maddox twice, batted down a pass and recovered a fumble.

Maddox, who was sacked six times overall, also threw an interception and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter when Jarret Johnson reached him in the backfield. Scott pounced on the ball at the Steelers' 43.

"We're always trying to put our offense on a short field to make an impact," Scott said. "We all know the statistics of turnovers and how they affect the outcome of a game. We always try and get those."

But the Ravens' defense has been largely unsuccessful, compared to previous years, in forcing that issue. Before yesterday's game, the Ravens had totaled eight sacks in their previous four games.

In that same four-game stretch, the team produced just three turnovers.

Asked if the lack of game-changing defensive plays had become a nuisance, Scott said: "Of course. We always prided ourselves in defensive touchdowns, and that's been missing. But we're continuing to grind and trying to get them."

Suggs came close to scoring the Ravens' first defensive touchdown of the season after he intercepted a Maddox pass and returned the ball 37 yards to the Steelers' 1 in the third quarter. But the turnover was nullified because linebacker Peter Boulware was called for lining up offside.

Another opportunity for Suggs came off a bizarre play late in the fourth quarter. Maddox threw a pass for Hines Ward, but the ball bounced off Ward's hands, then deflected off his foot into the air.

Suggs changed direction, made a beeline for the ball as it floated in the air, dived and came down with the interception with 1:07 left. The play was challenged but upheld. The Ravens, however, did not score on the ensuing drive, sending the game into overtime.

"I [saw] it get deflected, and I saw it was going down," Suggs said. "It just so happened that [Ward] kicked it up. I was like, `Oh.' I wasn't even supposed to be dropping [into coverage]. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I dove for it, caught it and tucked it.

"I knew I had it. It was without a doubt."

Forcing Maddox into turnovers was literally part of the game plan. The Ravens often played four linemen and four linebackers with just one safety (Will Demps) in first-down situations. Johnson served as the extra lineman, and Suggs was basically a linebacker.

"The strength of their team is to run the ball," Scott said. "We knew if we could stop those guys, we would put the game in the hands of Tommy Maddox, and we'll take our chances with that."

It proved fruitful. Maddox helped produce the types of plays that had been lacking.

"We'd been needing them all year," Suggs said. "We needed it all game because of the type of game it was. We stayed after it, and we got it."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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