Passing Chance

The Ravens say being physical, unpredictable can slow Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots

Ravens Gameday

December 03, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Chris McAlister said the best way to contain the New England Patriots' electric offense is to eliminate the big plays.

Brian Billick said it's about being unpredictable.

But when it comes to stopping a Patriots attack that has appeared unstoppable, Samari Rolle said the blueprint is more about desire than design.

"[The Patriots are] good, but at the same time, you have to believe in yourself and challenge them," Rolle said. "Instead of sitting back and saying we're going to give you this and give you that, go and try to make plays. I think the only way we can win is if defensively we put it on our shoulders and try to win this game."

When the undefeated Patriots (11-0) arrive at M&T Bank Stadium tonight, the reeling Ravens (4-7) are prepared to dig in defensively.

If healthy and at full strength, the Ravens can play faster and more physically than any defense the Patriots have seen this season. And judging by the attitude of players and coaches, the Ravens won't be afraid to blitz quarterback Tom Brady or run stride-for-stride with receiver Randy Moss.

That's a bold game plan for a defense that has had breakdowns in coverage and has struggled to sack quarterbacks. This uncharacteristic play has led to the Ravens giving up 30 points in consecutive games for the first time since 1999.

But the Ravens want to prove that the demise of last season's top-ranked defense might be overstated.

If McAlister starts at cornerback - he will be a game-time decision with a strained right knee - the Ravens will have 10 of their 11 Week 1 starters for the third time this season and the first since Sept. 16. They would be missing only defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, who is on injured reserve.

"Your real competitors want to get up and go against the best," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "That's just like a boxer wanting to go against a champion superstar. Ironically, we think of ourselves as the best on defense. Maybe the stats aren't there this year, but that's how we feel about ourselves."

Although the Ravens shrugged off what the Philadelphia Eagles did to New England eight days ago, they can borrow parts of the Eagles' scheme.

To counter New England's spread offense (their typical three- or four-receiver formations), the Eagles used three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, blitzing a linebacker off the edge and playing press coverage on the receivers.

The Ravens are built to do the same things and can send Bart Scott or Terrell Suggs at the Patriots' tackles, which have been their most vulnerable point in pass protection. The Ravens' corners (McAlister and Rolle) can play tight man-to-man coverage on Moss and Donte' Stallworth, and their safeties (Ed Reed and Dawan Landry) can cover plenty of space deep.

In handling receiver Wes Welker and tight end Ben Watson over the middle, the Ravens can be physical with nickel back Corey Ivy and linebacker Ray Lewis.

Still, the Ravens have to find an answer for Brady, the leader of the NFL's most explosive offense, which has averaged 40.2 points. Brady, who has thrown for 39 touchdowns and four interceptions, is "as smooth an operating quarterback as I've seen in a long time," Billick said.

The best defense against Brady could be an ever-rotating one.

"You just have to constantly change it up," Billick said. "[If] you give him one thing, something he can anticipate, he's going to make it a long day for you. So you're not going to give him anything he hasn't seen before, you just have to do it at unexpected times, and make it tough on him to get into that rhythm."

Regardless of the defense, McAlister said there is really one big key in going against the Patriots' attack.

"Don't let them throw the ball over your head," he said. "Don't give up the big play."

Brady has completed 60 percent of his passes of more than 30 yards this season, with five of nine such completions resulting in touchdowns.

To do so against the Ravens, Brady would have to go after Reed, who has been praised by New England coach Bill Belichick all week.

Brady joked about Belichick's admiration for Reed.

"He wants to adopt Ed Reed," Brady said. "It's going to be Ed Belichick."

While the sides have expressed a mutual respect, the Ravens' defensive players know what it's going to take to deliver one of the biggest upsets in NFL history - believing in themselves.

"It's tough because if you're trying to copy your defense off of somebody else's, you have to look at that and say, `Well, nobody's been successful yet, so we probably have to try to do something else,' " Ryan said. "We just have to be ourselves. We have to play our game, and generally, that's good enough."

Note -- CBS reported on its pre-game show yesterday that Ravens quarterback Steve McNair will have surgery on his rotator cuff. A Ravens spokesman said he is unaware of pending surgery for McNair. On Nov. 11, McNair partially dislocated his left shoulder and damaged his rotator cuff. He will miss his third straight game tonight.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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