Cornerbacks' absence could have led to fall

Analysis

Ravens Gameday

December 10, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

Was the difference between Peyton Manning's performance against the Ravens last night and what Tom Brady did last Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium as simple as Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle being on the sideline rather than in the secondary?

On the surface, the absence of the two former Pro Bowl cornerbacks, as well as a lack of presence from their replacements, Corey Ivy and David Pittman, appears to be at the heart of an embarrassing 44-20 blowout defeat for the Ravens to the Indianapolis Colts.

But is it that simple?

Certainly, Manning had to notice that neither No. 21 nor No. 22 was on the field.

"I didn't find out until when we were stretching in the pre-game that they had McAlister down and we didn't see Rolle out there," Manning said after the game. "Any time a team has two starting corners [out], it's football, you have to go after the guys that are in there."

Manning immediately went at Pittman on Reggie Wayne's 34-yard strike that started a four-touchdown night for Manning that ended with 8:10 left in the third quarter. Manning said after the game that there seemed to be confusion on the coverage by the safeties.

Was it as easy as it looked?

"It really wasn't easy, we had good execution, we had really good field position, [Joseph] Addai made some good catches out of the backfield," Manning said. "It was nice to get that first third-down touchdown, and we kept getting in the end zone."

But the way Manning was slinging the ball around, even without future Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison in uniform again because of season-nagging knee injury, you got the feeling that Manning might have routed the Ravens regardless of who was in the secondary.

This is what Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson did to his former teammates early in the season long before McAlister hurt his knee, what Ben Roethlisberger did to the Ravens in that Monday night debacle in Pittsburgh last month, what Philip Rivers did to the Ravens two weeks ago in San Diego.

This is what Brady did to the Ravens in bringing the Patriots back in the fourth quarter last Monday night, when McAlister and Rolle made one of their rare appearances together before returning to bench, McAlister with the knee injury and Rolle with a shoulder he hurt two weeks ago in San Diego.

And this is what Manning did to the Ravens: He hit an efficient 13 of 17 passes before giving way to little-used Jim Sorgi, for 249 yards and the four touchdowns, the last two to Harrison's replacement, rookie Anthony Gonzalez, on passes of 57 and 40 yards.

"They came out and just made plays, they kept it on the short side of the field the whole night and they capitalized on it," second-year safety Dawan Landry. "You always miss veteran guys, the younger guys have to step up, each and every week is a learning experience. We can't really get in a rhythm."

Did the absence of McAlister and Rolle cause confusion in the secondary?

"Not any confusion. The guys just made plays. Give the guys credit," Landry said.

The Ravens might want to start looking for replacements, or at least more capable backups, given Rolle began to show signs of decline last season and McAlister hadn't played at a Pro Bowl level even before getting hurt. The Colts have had their share of injuries this season, but it doesn't show.

"For us, we've been dealing with those issues all year," All-Pro safety Bob Sanders said. "You have to expect guys to step in and step up, to pick up the slack and play well. Every week we've had guys go down. You have to keep on playing. You can't stop."

The Ravens have made rising stars such as Anderson and Roethlisberger look like Manning.

Last night, they got Manning in person.

It was painful, but at least it was quick.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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