Declawing 'Wildcat'

With Dolphins' trickery taken away, Ravens' defense pounces all over five turnovers

Ravens Gameday

January 05, 2009|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,david.steele@baltsun.com

MIAMI - The Miami Dolphins tied for the fewest turnovers in a 16-game regular-season in NFL history. As they prepared for yesterday's AFC wild-card playoff game at Dolphin Stadium, this is how the Ravens didn't respond to that: Ooooh, lordy, lordy, how are we going to get the ball away from them?

More like: Hmmm, how many times will we?

"It's not about what they do," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan repeated often in the visiting - and decisively victorious - locker room at Dolphin Stadium yesterday. "It's about what we do."

The Ravens take the ball away, better than any other team in the NFL, statistically and otherwise, and take away a team's heart, and chances to win, as they do. Ed Reed does it better than any other player, and he did it two more times. This wasn't just a day off for Miami combined with good luck by the Ravens. Echoing the consensus among the team, Reed said of the preparation for this game, "Turnovers is definitely one of the things we talked about."

But reducing this portion of the Ravens' 27-9 win to numbers - five turnovers, including four interceptions of Chad Pennington - does it an injustice. So does just saying the Ravens won. They stripped the Dolphins bare, negated the biggest advantage they had.

But how? The Dolphins gave it up just 13 times all regular season, just seven on interceptions thrown by Pennington. Yet by halftime the Ravens, leading 13-3, had shaken the Dolphins, their offensive philosophy and their quarterback to the core.

To their two first-half interceptions, the Ravens added three more takeaways on the Dolphins' first three possessions of the second half. The last one, Reed's second pick, this time inside the Ravens' 10-yard line late in the third quarter, cleared out an already-emptying stadium.

To repeat: How?

"Man, our defense is special. Everybody's defense can't do what we do," said Fabian Washington, who got the third pick of Pennington early in the second half. OK, but you're biased.

"No. 1, they have unique concepts that they use," Pennington said. "No. 2, they have excellent athletes within these concepts. So you put those two things together, and you have a chance to be really successful as a defense."

The pass that Reed turned into the game-breaking, zigzagging 64-yard touchdown late in the first half was the epitome of what the Ravens did so well. Pennington had been flushed far to the left and fired deep, across his body and off his back foot, moments before Bart Scott plastered him. Reed had only to chase down a pop fly. The crazy run is a different story, of course.

All told, it was a triumph of a complete defensive effort; the players all can take credit for what four players (Reed, Washington, Jim Leonhard and Terrell Suggs) got their hands on. By locking down the running game early, including the "Wildcat" schemes (again), they forced Pennington to make plays. Once they did that, it was just a matter of going after him and going after the ball.

Naturally, it made the Ravens' offense giddy, making those players' lives infinitely easier. Said Joe Flacco, whose ordinary numbers were rendered irrelevant, "You're sitting on the sideline expecting them to do it."

Even against one of the few teams that you would expect wouldn't let it happen.

"It doesn't matter who the other team is," coach John Harbaugh countered. "Just because we're playing a team that leads the league in ball security doesn't mean we can't get them. We feel we can get anybody."

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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