1-safety alignment may be here to stay




Heading into this season, the Ravens were expected to showcase an innovative base defense that would turn the NFL upside down. With little choice because of injuries, that may soon be the case.

While the 46 defense - which drew much preseason hype - has become little more than a rarely used package this year, the Ravens may have to go with an even more creative approach to offset the losses of safeties Will Demps and Ed Reed.

Demps tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Sunday's 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Reed has not played since Oct. 16 because of a high ankle sprain.

Without Reed, the Ravens used a four-lineman, four-linebacker, one-safety configuration sparingly the past two games, but that might be the team's staple now.

The Ravens would be the only NFL team to primarily use such a formation, but the team is not letting on about what it will do.

"What we do in the back end will come from within, but I'll withhold comment on that for a number of different reasons, tactically not the least of them, as to what we will do to configure ourselves for the loss of those players," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

With no Demps and likely no Reed for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, the Ravens could get away with playing just Chad Williams or B.J. Ward at safety. The Texans have the league's 30th-rated passing attack.

The Ravens also could use cornerback Dale Carter at safety, but with Chris McAlister slowed by a hamstring injury, Carter might have to remain at his natural position.

A free-agent defensive back might be signed today to replace Demps' roster spot, but the player would help more on special teams than defense.

"There is no pending veteran presence that we would sign in the safety position or at the fullback position that we would go, `Oh, we're OK now.' I don't think that guy exists," Billick said.

When the Ravens use four linemen and four linebackers, Adalius Thomas can join the lone safety in the secondary for a more traditional look. It is Thomas' versatility - he also has lined up at cornerback - coaches say, that allows for the formation.

The look confused quarterback Carson Palmer a couple of times early before the Bengals took over the game in the second quarter, torching a secondary playing without Demps, Reed and McAlister.

"I thought the guys that stepped in did a great job - a great job within the context of what was going on and who was down and what we had to do to basically survive," Billick said.

Billick on Bengals

Billick gave a surprising nod to the Bengals' offense as being the best in the league, highlighting its balance as the reason he would take it over the Indianapolis Colts' offense.

"Taking nothing away from Indianapolis, and Peyton Manning is an incredible quarterback, [Cincinnati] is the best offense that I've seen so far in terms of balance of all the thing they can do," Billick said. "[Offensive coordinator] Bob Bratkowski is doing an outstanding job with them and with Carson Palmer."

The Colts entered their game last night second in total offense (379.9 yards a game) and sixth in passing (250.5). The Bengals are averaging 378.8 yards (third as of last night) and 258.2 yards passing (fifth).

Woeful Texans

For the first time in six games, the Ravens will face a team with a worse record than their own.

The Texans (1-10) have lost their past four games.

"Their record ... is of no consequence to us in terms of our preparation," Billick said. "It's a chance to come home, go down on the field for another three hours and see if we can build on some of the things we did in the second half against Cincinnati."


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