2 Baltimore Ravens

The defense is playing at a historically high level, but postseason hopes hinge on whether the attack can keep up
September 02, 2007

WHAT'S NEW

> For thefirst time since 2001 Jamal Lewis will not be the team's primary ballcarrier.The Ravens cut ties with Lewis on the last day of February and eight days latersent three draft picks to the Bills for Willis McGahee, who they hope will bemore explosive and creative than the north-south Lewis. Quarterback SteveMcNair, 34, who signed late and had to learn on the job in 2006, now has a fullseason behind him of running the Baltimore offense.

Coach BrianBillick, who fired his offensive coordinator (and close friend) Jim Fassel inmid-October and assumed the play-calling duties, will run the show from DayOne. "The defense wants us to be more productive and aggressive onoffense," says Billick. "That's the goal."

That defense,which was ranked first in the NFL, will have to adapt to life withoutlinebacker Adalius Thomas, who took his uncommon play-making ability to NewEngland as a $35 million unrestricted free agent.

WHERE THEY'REHEADED

> The Ravens'defense is in the midst of a run of historic proportions. It gave up just264.1 yards a game last year, the best in the NFL by an astounding 19.5yards, and it hasn't allowed more than 20 points per game since 2002. Thomas'sdeparture created headlines, but every other significant defender on the teamreturns. "We keep it moving around here," says veteran middlelinebacker and team leader Ray Lewis. "We feel real good about the defense,even without AD."

Thomas was listedas an outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 system, but he functioned atvarious times as an edge pass rusher, a curl-zone pass defender or even a deepsafety. Jarret Johnson, a 6' 3", 270-pound run-stopping specialist, willhelp fill the void left by Thomas's departure, as will safety Gerome Sapp. Moreimportant, Lewis (even at age 32), the improving Bart Scott and sack specialistTerrell Suggs are as good as any other linebacking corps in the league. Therest of the Ravens' defense is dotted with All-Pros present and future: tackleHaloti Ngata, safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and SamariRolle.

"There aretimes in the last few years when we've had to play without Ray, without Ed,without a lot of people," says defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Wewon't ask anybody to do the things AD did, but we'll get those things done witha number of people. You look around here: If you make our defense, you're apretty darn good defensive player. And we will play good defense."

The goal onoffense is to take some of the pressure off that defense. Last season theRavens started 2-0, averaging 27.5 points a game, but then scored only55 points over the next four weeks, leading Billick to take over theoffense after two straight losses. With him calling the shots, the Ravens went9-1, and they ranked ninth in scoring in the NFL in that span as McNair'squarterback rating improved from 64.1 under Fassel to 92.9 under Billick.

"You've got togive the man credit for taking a stand," says McNair. "Brian decided ifhe was going to get fired, he was going to go down calling his own plays. Hewas using the same playbook as Fassel, but he was more aggressive. He went forbig plays. He stepped things up. He wanted to make runs look like passes andpasses look like runs. I think we did a pretty good job."

With an entireoff-season to prepare for running the offense, Billick says to expect more ofthe same, only better. And he's relishing a more hands-on role. "Now when Iwake up in the middle of the night," he says, "I'm thinking aboutwhether I should put the fullback in the flat, not about our salary-capsituation."

He is alsothinking about how to use McGahee to further enliven the offense. "WithJamal we had a lot of success, but we were a fairly downhill team," saysBillick. "We played a physical game and wore you out. Now I think we'veevolved. We're more multiple. And Willis has the ability to get outside andcut, which we have not had."

McGahee, the Miamiproduct whose horrific knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl delayed the start ofhis NFL career by a full year, gained 3,365 yards in three seasons with theBills but only 990 in 2006. The team and the player were sick of each other."I left everything in Buffalo behind me," says McGahee. "I've goteverything back on the right track. This place is loaded with talent. Itreminds me of Miami, man. I plan on having some great years here."

His first yearshould be one of those. The Ravens are in an elite class and will be in seriouscontention for the AFC's tightly contested Super Bowl berth.

COACH BRIANBILLICK (75-53 in NFL), ninth season with Ravens

OFFENSE

PROJECTED STARTINGLINEUP

WITH 2006STATISTICS

MARK CLAYTON

POS WR

REC 67

YARDS 939

TD 5

WILLIS MCGAHEE(NEW ACQUISITION)

POS RB

ATT 259

YARDS 990

AVG 3.8

REC 18

YARDS 156

AVG 8.7

TD 6

STEVE MCNAIR

POS QB

ATT 468

COMP 295

PCT 63.0

YARDS 3,050

TD 16

INT 12

RATING 82.5

JUSTIN GREEN

POS FB

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG 0

REC 4

YARDS 17

AVG 4.3

TD 0

DERRICK MASON

POS WR

REC 68

YARDS

TD 750 2

ADAM TERRY

POS RT

HT 6' 8"

WT 330

G 16

CHRIS CHESTER

POS RG

HT 6' 3"

WT 305

G 11

MIKE FLYNN

POS C

HT 6' 3"

WT 305

G 16

JASON BROWN

POS LG

HT 6' 3"

WT 320

G 16

JONATHAN OGDEN

POS LT

HT 6' 9"

WT 345

G 14

TODD HEAP

POS TE

REC 73

YARDS 765

TD 6

DEFENSE

TERRELL SUGGS

POS OLB

TACKLES 64

SACKS 9 1/2

INT 0

TREVOR PRYCE

POS DE

TACKLES 47

SACKS 13

HALOTI NGATA

POS DT

TACKLES 31

SACKS 1

KELLY GREGG

POS DT

TACKLES 61

SACKS 3 1/2

JARRET JOHNSON

POS OLB

TACKLES 22

SACKS 1 1/2

INT 0

CHRISMCALISTER

POS CB

TACKLES 47

INT 6

ED REED

POS FS

TACKLES 59

SACKS 0

INT 5

BART SCOTT

POS ILB

TACKLES 103

SACKS 9 1/2

INT 2

RAY LEWIS

POS ILB

TACKLES 103

SACKS 5

INT 2

DAWAN LANDRY

POS SS

TACKLES 69

SACKS 3

INT 5

SAMARI ROLLE

POS CB

TACKLES 52

INT 3

SAM KOCH

POS P

PUNTS 86

AVG 43.0

MATT STOVER

POS K

FG 28-30

POINTS 121

NEWACQUISITION

> 2006 RECORD13-3 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 25/11/17 DEFENSE 2/6/1

2007 SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

10 at Cincinnati (M)

16 N.Y. JETS

23 ARIZONA

30 at Cleveland

OCTOBER

7 at San Francisco

14 ST. LOUIS

21 at Buffalo

28 Bye

NOVEMBER

5 at Pittsburgh (M)

11 CINCINNATI

18 CLEVELAND

25 at San Diego

DECEMBER

3 NEW ENGLAND (M)

9 INDIANAPOLIS

16 at Miami

23 at Seattle

30 PITTSBURGH

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank ... 11T

Opponents' 2006 winning percentage ... .508

Games against playoff teams ... 5

(M) Monday

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PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERJUMP START
McNair & Co. will benefit from running the same offense from theget-go.
PHOTOWD/ICON SMI ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)