The Basics Of The Game

Football 101

Ravens Extra -- A Fans Guide To The Nfl Playoffs

January 05, 2007|By KEN MURRAY

Football is a game of specialists whose job is to come together as an 11-man unit on offense and defense. It is often called the ultimate team sport because a breakdown by just one player can ruin a play, a game or a season.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Defensive linemen are on a search-and-sack mission. The quarterback is their target. Depending on what defense is called by coordinator Rex Ryan, the Ravens can have three or four linemen in a three-point stance ready to tackle a ball carrier or get the quarterback.

Watch for: One of the favorite ploys of defensive linemen is to stunt, or loop around one another to confuse the offensive line.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Offensive linemen play unglamorous, unsung positions. They include a center, two guards and two tackles, and their job is to protect the quarterback or make the running back look good. The only time they're recognized in the stadium is for a penalty. In left tackle Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens have an almost certain future Hall of Famer.

Watch for: The Ravens' pass protection for quarterback Steve McNair has been excellent this season, better than the line's run blocking for Jamal Lewis. When the Ravens are in short yardage, they'll often run behind Ogden.

TIGHT END

With the Ravens, this is a high-profile position. Todd Heap is one of the league's best tight ends, and he is particularly effective inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Tight ends are bigger physically, and not as quick, as wide receivers.

Watch for: Tight ends are often used in the running game, but Heap is among the elite class of pass-catching tight ends. Look for him on short crossing routes and vertical intermediate routes, occasionally going deep.

QUARTERBACK

McNair's experience makes him an ideal quarterback to run the Ravens' offense. He reads defensive coverage well, makes good decisions and gets the ball out quickly against the blitz. He can run the ball, too, although he does it less often than he used to.

Watch for: McNair gets in a rhythm when he's throwing well. When he's not in a rhythm, his passes will be short of the intended receiver. Sometimes, however, that's because he has been hit in the pocket.

RUNNING BACK

The Ravens prefer a big back, like Lewis, in the AFC North because that is what has worked best over the years in that division. Lewis gives them short-yardage power, but is also a breakaway threat on occasion. He does not catch the ball particularly well, however, out of the backfield.

Watch for: When Lewis is running well, his cuts at the line are quick and decisive and he explodes through the hole. When the defense penetrates the line, Lewis becomes more tentative and takes baby steps to buy time until he can find a hole.

WIDE RECEIVERS

In Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the Ravens have two complementary receivers. Mason is a clutch, possession receiver who can find seams in the secondary. Clayton has potential as a deep threat because of his speed.

Watch for: Depending on matchups, McNair may favor one receiver or another in a game, looking to take advantage of a height or speed advantage.

LINEBACKERS

The Ravens favor a 3-4 alignment, which means they use four linebackers, with Ray Lewis and Bart Scott in the middle, and Terrell Suggs and Adalius Thomas on the outside as pass rushers. Suggs and Thomas act as defensive ends at times.

Watch for: It is a defensive lineman's job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers and allow them to make tackles. When Ray Lewis and Bart Scott are blocked, the Ravens' defense is in trouble.

SECONDARY

In base defense, the Ravens use four defensive backs, including two cornerbacks to the outside and two safeties in the middle. The cornerbacks, Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, are responsible for covering the opposing wide receivers. The safeties, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, can be used in coverage or brought up to the line of scrimmage to help stop the running game. Watch for: In obvious passing situations, the Ravens bring extra defensive backs for what is called the nickel and dime packages. This reduces the number of players who can rush the quarterback.

PUNTER / KICKER

These are the ultimate specialists. The punter's goal is to pin the opposing offense deep in its territory and help win the battle of field position.

The kicker is the player whose job is to finish off stalled drives with field goals. Watch for: Rookie Sam Koch has done a good job of punting the ball

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