Defense ready for QB switch

Lions' backup Culpepper poses familiar challenge

December 12, 2009|By Edward Lee | edward.lee@baltsun.com

The Ravens have seen this sleight-of-hand trick before.

For the second time in three weeks, the defensive game plan has been altered after an opponent made a change at quarterback.

But unlike the Week 11 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers when the switch from Ben Roethlisberger to Dennis Dixon wasn't announced until the day before the game, the defense has been working since Wednesday making preparations for the Detroit Lions' Daunte Culpepper.

"That way, you get a whole week to prepare," defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. "He's a bigger guy and harder to take down. It helps out a lot when you know who you're going to be playing against."

Culpepper will get his third start of the season Sunday because of an injury to rookie Matthew Stafford. In the Lions' 23-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Stafford injured the left, nonthrowing shoulder he had separated against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 22.

Culpepper thought he was going to play against the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving, but he was relegated to the bench when Stafford got the start.

Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson said the offense shouldn't experience too many hiccups with the transition from Stafford to Culpepper.

"It'll be smooth," Johnson said. "We still practice with 'Pepp' even though Matt was the starter of the first 10 or whatever weeks. So we still got some time in with 'Pepp,' and I played with him some last year. So I know what to expect."

Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowl player with the Minnesota Vikings, has failed to find similar success in stints with the Miami Dolphins (2006), the Oakland Raiders (2007) and the Lions (2008 and 2009).

He has lost seven straight starts, including both this season against the Steelers on Oct. 11 and the Packers on Oct. 18, completing 29 of 51 passes for 330 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The last time Culpepper won was Nov. 25, 2007, when he led the Raiders to a 20-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Still, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Culpepper possesses the kind of arm that can test a Ravens secondary that has surrendered 37 catches of at least 20 yards and 15 of at least 30 yards.

"He's got a great arm," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He can scramble, and when he's scrambling, it's a 6-foot-whatever, 200-and-some-pound guy going. And he can still run. We watched a lot of tape on him when he played this year against the Steelers, and every time he's gone in, he's really moved the team. I think he - probably at this stage in his career - kind of has a free-wheeling attitude where he can just go do what he has to do and make plays, and we've got to make sure that doesn't happen."

While Culpepper, 32, can extend plays by scrambling in and out of the pocket, he is no longer the mobile quarterback he used to be. After gaining 2,329 yards on 430 carries (5.4-yard average) and 28 touchdowns in his first six seasons, Culpepper has compiled just 283 yards on 70 attempts (4.0-yard average) and six touchdowns in his past five.

"He's proven that he can play at a Pro Bowl level in this league," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "So it's going to be a slightly different challenge, but it's not like we're going from Stafford to [ Michael] Vick. He's still a passer. He's not the same kind of running quarterback that would present a whole new set of problems."

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