In Redskins secondary, Ravens facing deepest challenge yet

Ravens Insider

December 05, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston@baltsun.com

The Ravens' passing offense has made strides all season, and there was significant progress Sunday in the Ravens' 34-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

But rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and his fleet of possession receivers haven't played a secondary as talented and deep as the one they will face Sunday night when the Ravens host the Washington Redskins.

Everyone connected with the Ravens' offense nods in agreement. This is an excellent group, with starting cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers and safeties Chris Horton and LaRon Landry. DeAngelo Hall and Shawn Springs are the backup cornerbacks.

That's impressive when Hall and Springs are coming off the bench. Teams in the AFC North like the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals would love to have Hall and Smoot as starters.

"Rogers, Springs - Springs is the elder statesman there - are very good corners," Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "They have a group of guys at the back end that I don't think anybody else in the NFL has with the talent and experience. They've got a lot of Pro Bowls between them and a lot of interceptions between all of them. They're probably the best that we've faced thus far."

It's an interesting matchup for the Ravens, because Sunday against the Bengals, they opened up their offense and Flacco threw deep.

Flacco completed 19 of 29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, including one of 70 yards to wide receiver Mark Clayton. Flacco also completed a 32-yard pass to Mason and another of 45 yards to Clayton.

Besides going deep regularly, it was the first time Flacco had spread the ball around among Clayton, Mason and tight end Todd Heap.

"He has trust in all his receivers," Mason said. "He knows that if he throws the ball up or throws the ball a little bit to the left or to the right that we're going to find a way to get the ball."

More importantly for the Ravens, a strong vertical game opens up the field for the running game and the short- to intermediate-passing game.

The Ravens' passing game will have to be effective Sunday night, because the Redskins prefer to crowd the line of scrimmage with seven or as many as eight to shut down the run.

And then they absolutely dare you to beat them outside with the pass. The only team that has is the Giants in a 23-7 New York win last week.

Washington's secondary will be looking for some redemption.

"They're a team that likes to load the box and put as many people as they can down in there and man up everybody on the outside," Flacco said. "They feel like they can do that, and we feel like we're going to be able to take advantage of that with our receivers. We'll see."

The New Orleans Saints, who have the best offense in the league, felt that way. So did the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles. None of those teams threw for more than 200 yards against Washington. In fact, just three of 12 opponents have.

The Redskins play a lot of press coverage, and the Ravens' receivers aren't known for being physical. The Redskins defensive backs are fast, physical and aggressive. Their nickel and dime coverages are just as aggressive. Washington can press up on your receivers anywhere on the field, outside or in the slot.

"They have confidence in their guys, in their ability to cover," Mason said. "They try to put pressure on the quarterback, try to stop the run. And they give their guys outside the opportunity to cover down man to man. Whether it's soft, press or whatever, their guys have been able to do a job at that."

Joe Flacco, though, remains Joe Cool.

"Believe me, we know that they have good players, but we're not going to concentrate on that too much," he said. "We know that we have the guys to match up against them, or least we feel we do, so we're going to go out there and try to prove that this week."

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