Mind Games

Top-ranked unit ready to play `cat and mouse' with No. 1 QB

Ravens defense

January 10, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

When it comes to facing Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, the Ravens have to be prepared for his audibles at the line, his quick release to avoid sacks and his ability to find the end zone again and again.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis said the Ravens will be up to the challenge for Saturday's divisional playoff game, which will pit the NFL's top-ranked defense against the league's top-ranked quarterback.

If there's any defense that can get into the head of Manning, the Ravens believe it is theirs, one that Lewis said could go down as the best in team history.

Asked if this season's defense was better than the historic group in 2000 that set the NFL record for fewest points allowed (165) in a 16-game schedule, Lewis paused and said, "Arguably. We can create a lot of hard matchups for people. It's very difficult to defend us right now. No disrespect to anyone across the league, but we don't really worry about offenses. They have to worry about us because we're coming from so many different ways."

There's no such debate over which defense harassed NFL quarterbacks the most this season. The Ravens led the league in lowest opposing quarterback rating (63.4), most interceptions (28) and lowest completion rate (54.8 percent).

Manning has not been slowed by many defenses, ranking first in quarterback rating (101.0) and touchdown passes (31). His nine interceptions in the regular season were second lowest among starters with at least 200 passes.

"They know they're the best offense and we know we're the best defense ... " Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "They're going to get our best shot, and we expect to get their best shot. So, we'll see what happens."

If this game resembles previous meetings between the teams, this showdown will become a chess match.

In past meetings, Manning routinely came to the line of scrimmage to survey the defense and started waving his arms to signal a play. The Colts moved around accordingly, causing Lewis to wave his arms to shift the Ravens' defense.

Back and forth they went - move for move, countermove for countermove - until the Colts snapped the ball.

"[The Colts] can be very creative," coach Brian Billick said. "It's very hard to beat this team if you're just going to sit there and stay static."

The Ravens' deception comes from their versatility.

Is Terrell Suggs playing defensive end or linebacker? Is Adalius Thomas a linebacker or defensive back? Is Ed Reed a defensive back or an extra blitzer?

"It becomes a game of cat and mouse," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "We need to show something, not show something and just try to keep him on his toes all day."

Still, can the Ravens confuse Manning, who is regarded as the smartest quarterback in the NFL?

"I think they are probably the toughest team we've played against in terms of having to prepare for a lot of different things," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They have talented and smart players who can play a lot of different roles and they don't give you the same look very often. They're just very, very tough to prepare for."

Manning has won the past three meetings against the Ravens, including the 2005 season opener. In those victories, he has thrown four touchdown passes and one interception.

The biggest problem for the Ravens has been pressuring Manning, who has not been sacked by the Ravens in two games (a span of 69 pass attempts).

The Ravens have thrived on hitting quarterbacks this season, finishing second in the NFL with 60 sacks.

"I heard some coordinators in the league say, `Well, you can't get to him so don't even try,' " Ryan said before cracking a smile. "I have a feeling we'll try to get to him."

Linebacker Bart Scott, one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, didn't hold back on his intentions.

Holding a bottle of Tabasco given to him by the media for its annual "Good Guy" award -in reference to his comment that he put some hot sauce on his tackle of the New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush - Scott said, "I'm going to pour a little of this on Peyton this week - the whole bottle."

If the Ravens can get to Manning, it would further increase their stature as an elite defense.

McAlister, who is one of two starters remaining from that 2000 defense, has yet to compare this defense to the one in 2000. But he did acknowledge there is a similarity between the two Ravens teams.

Said McAlister: "Right now, the feeling in this locker room is that, as long as we stay together and do what we've been coached up to do, there's not a team that can beat us."jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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