Unbeaten teams have much in common

ON THE RAVENS

September 30, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

When the Ravens meet the San Diego Chargers tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium, it will be like looking in the mirror. The similarities are almost scary.

Both teams like to run the ball and want their quarterbacks to effectively manage the game. Both have top running backs, tight ends, big-name linebackers and a solid, veteran receiver on the outside. San Diego's defense is ranked No. 1, the Ravens' is ranked No. 2.

Anything else?

Both teams are looking to make a statement in tomorrow's game.

While the Ravens (3-0) have been criticized for beating Tampa Bay (0-3), Oakland (0-2) and Cleveland (0-3), the Chargers have beaten only the Raiders and Tennessee (0-3).

It's neither team's fault. They don't make the schedules; they just play the game. But tomorrow's game will be different because it should be intense all the way through, much like the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game nearly two weeks ago.

The Ravens and the Chargers will try to shut down the other team's running game, and put pressure on quarterbacks Steve McNair (Ravens) and Philip Rivers (Chargers).

We'll get a chance to look at Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, as well as the tight end matchup of Todd Heap vs. Antonio Gates. Both teams still get quality play from veteran receivers such as San Diego's Keenan McCardell and the Ravens' Derrick Mason.

Then there is the defense. The Chargers are allowing only 173.5 yards per game; the Ravens are giving up only 197.3.

"You live to play these types of games," said Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott. "If you can shut down a running back like LaDainian Tomlinson, then it says something. If you beat a team like San Diego, it erases a lot of doubt."

Heap dismissed speculation that he hurt his ankle last week while playing basketball. Team officials said Heap hurt the ankle while stretching at home Friday night before the Cleveland game.

Heap has a strong basketball game. He played briefly for Arizona State in 1999-2000 after the football season. We've seen his vertical leap and strong hands. So, did Heap injure the ankle hanging on the rim after a dunk with fans screaming, "H-e-a-p?"

"Actually, I was doing calf raises on the steps," Heap said. "The doctors and trainers told me there would be some scar tissue there, and I just heard something rip. I started to go to sleep, but felt some pain and saw some swelling. I called Bill Tessendorf [team trainer] around 11 p.m. that night [Friday], and that's what happened."

Ravens minority owner Art Modell and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer remain good friends. Modell gave Schottenheimer his first head coaching job with Cleveland, where he stayed from the midpoint of 1984 through 1988.

Schottenheimer led the then-Browns to the playoffs four years, including winning three AFC Central Division titles. The Browns played in two AFC championship games (1986 and 1987), losing both to John Elway and the Broncos.

To this day, Modell regrets allowing Schottenheimer to leave.

"Marty is a class act, a good coach," Modell said. "More importantly, he is a good family man and a quality person, and you don't always get that combination with a head coach. He is in the top tier of coaches, and has a deep passion for the game.

"My only regret is that we couldn't get things done the way we had planned. I went with the advice of some of my subordinates about him trying to seize power, and that information turned out to be incorrect. We still talk and are very close. He called me recently when I was sick."

Note to Ray Lewis: Old habits are hard to break. Lewis has been a lot more humble since training camp opened, and was working hard to mend some relationships with his teammates that had gone sour a year ago.

It was going great until this week when Lewis called it "my defense" again, and said "there's nothing better in the world than seeing my teammates waiting for me to come out there and hearing the roar of the crowd."

Easy 52. Let's keep it real. This team concept thing has been working quite well. Don't rock the boat.

Quick hitters: The Chargers have an advantage over the Ravens when it comes to interior line play. San Diego hasn't allowed a sack, and Rivers has been hit only twice. McNair gets hit that much every quarter. ... One national sportscaster said McNair was the success story of the young season. That tells me he doesn't watch much game film. mike.preston@baltsun.com

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