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3 Baltimore Ravens

Sept. 01, 2008
Sept. 01, 2008

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Sept. 1, 2008

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3 Baltimore Ravens

A beleaguered offense turns to young players for salvation, picking up the tempo and looking the defense in the eye

GOOD NEWS forRavens fans: The offense is tired of getting sand kicked in its face. At leastthat's what linebacker Ray Lewis noticed during a scrimmage in training camp,when he dropped a few intimidating sound bites on rookie quarterback Joe Flaccowhile the kid shouted signals. In return Flacco, the team's first-round draftpick out of Division I-AA Delaware, shot Lewis a what-me-worry stare and ranthe play—and completed the pass. "I like the kid," Lewis says."Smart, humble, confident. He doesn't back down."

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2008 issue

In nine yearsunder former coach Brian Billick, the defense routinely overpowered the offensein camp, crowed about it, then outperformed the offense during the season.Considering that Billick was originally hired for his offensive know-how, theconstant smackdown was perplexing. New coordinator Cam Cameron, backed byfirst-year coach John Harbaugh, came to town with a chip on his shoulder, andit showed during spring and summer workouts. But make no mistake: Defense isstill king. "These are the most physically demanding practices I've everbeen a part of in my 25 years of coaching," Cameron says. "We want toplay offense the way they play defense—smart, physical, aggressive."

It's probably agood thing that so many of the key offensive components—Cameron, Flacco,second-year quarterback Troy Smith, second-year left tackle Jared Gaither,rookie running back Ray Rice—all have been Ravens for 17 months or less. Theyhaven't been immersed in the defense-is-God mentality that pervades thefranchise. Harbaugh has done his part, preaching unit equality and rearranginglockers so that the defensive players aren't separated from their offensivebrethren. But he also knows the offense has to earn respect.

"The phrasethe guys on offense are using is, 'Little brother's not backing downanymore,'" Harbaugh says. "It's not about the offense versus thedefense, and we're not going to have any 'We lost this game because of theoffense' grumbling. That's a place to hide, not a solution. At some point we'regoing to be a great offense. I don't know if it's going to be by opening day,Week 3 or Year 3. But until then all three phases of this team are going topick each other up."

During camp thecoaches increased the tempo. In every offense-versus-defense drill, Cameron hadthe play clock running, and during one 10-play drive led by Smith every snapcame with at least 10 seconds left on the clock. "We want to pressure thedefense," Flacco says. The only way to do that is by moving the chains, andto do that Smith and Flacco have to be more accurate than their predecessors.Under Billick the Ravens ranked in the top 10 in the league in completionpercentage only once. "It's all about recognizing the defense and beingfast at this level," says Flacco. "I need to make decisions quicker,which is why it's good for us to be playing at such a fast pace."

Says Cameron,"I've seen the play clock strangle young quarterbacks. We're going to trainthem to play fast so it doesn't."

The foundation ofthe new offense is a renewed emphasis on the run—at the least, rushing on morethan 43% of the snaps as Baltimore did last year in going 5--11. Willis McGaheemay match his 294 carries of 2007, but this season he'll get help from a No. 2back. Rice, a second-round pick who had 715 carries over his last two seasonsat Rutgers, could be on the field 50% of the time in single- and two-backformations. "At the tempo we're going to play," says Cameron,"you've got to have two good backs stay fresh. Ray's so much better than wethought on draft day. His route running, his hands, his pass protection allcomplement his running."

The only wayBaltimore contends for a playoff spot is if McGahee and Rice can carry theoffense until one of the young quarterbacks gets settled and, of course, thedefense remains formidable.

PROJECTEDSTARTING LINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH JOHN HARBAUGH (0--0 in NFL), firstseason with Ravens

OFFENSE

Derrick MASON
POS WR
REC 103
YARDS 1,087
TD 5

Adam TERRY
POS RT
HT 6'8"
WT 330
G 13

Willis McGAHEE
POS RB
ATT 294
YARDS 1,207
AVG 4.1
REC 43
YARDS 231
AVG 5.4
TD 8

Marshal YANDA
POS RG
HT 6'3"
WT 310
G 16

Troy SMITH
POS QB
ATT 76
COMP 40
PCT 52.6
YARDS 452
TD 2
INT 0
RATING 79.5

Jason BROWN
POS C
HT 6'3"
WT 320
G 16

Le'Ron McCLAIN
POS FB
ATT 8
YARDS 18
AVG 2.3
REC 9
YARDS 55
AVG 3.4
TD 0

Ben GRUBBS
POS LG
HT 6'3"
WT 315
G 16

Mark CLAYTON
POS WR
REC 48
YARDS 531
TD 0

Jared GAITHER
POS LT
HT 6'9"
WT 330
G 6

Matt STOVER
POS K
FG 27--32
POINTS 107

Todd HEAP
POS TE
REC 23
YARDS 239
TD 1

DEFENSE

Jarret JOHNSON
POS OLB
TACKLES 58
SACKS 2
INT 0

ChrisMcALISTER
POS CB
TACKLES 19
INT 1

Trevor PRYCE
POS LE
TACKLES 15
SACKS 2

Ed REED
POS FS
TACKLES 39
SACKS 0
INT 7

Kelly GREGG
POS NT
TACKLES 83
SACKS 3

Ray LEWIS
POS ILB
TACKLES 121
SACKS 2
INT 2

Haloti NGATA
POS RE
TACKLES 63
SACKS 3

Bart SCOTT
POS ILB
TACKLES 94
SACKS 1
INT 0

Terrell SUGGS
POS OLB
TACKLES 78
SACKS 5
INT 0

Dawan LANDRY
POS SS
TACKLES 79
SACKS 1
INT 0

Sam KOCH
POS P
PUNTS 78
AVG 43.6

Samari ROLLE
POS SS
TACKLES 22
INT 1

2007 RECORD 5--11NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 16/23/22 DEFENSE 2/20/6

SEPTEMBER
7 CINCINNATI
14 at Houston
21 CLEVELAND
29 at Pittsburgh (M)

OCTOBER
5 TENNESSEE
12 at Indianapolis
19 at Miami
26 OAKLAND

NOVEMBER
2 at Cleveland
9 Bye
16 at N.Y. Giants
23 PHILADELPHIA
30 at Cincinnati

DECEMBER
7 WASHINGTON
14 PITTSBURGH
20 at Dallas (Sa)
28 JACKSONVILLE

(M) Monday (Sa) Saturday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 4
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .551
Games against playoff teams: 8

UNIT GRADES

SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Ravens' units.

QB D
Looking for rookie Joe Flacco to emerge; it won't be this year.

RB B
Rookie Ray Rice offers some relief for McGahee.

WR C
Lack depth, big-time playmakers; Clayton had no TDs in '07.

TE B-
Heap is always getting hurt; unit needs a blocker, more depth.

OL D
Lost Ogden on the left; never replaced Tony Pashos on the right.

DL B
Aging but powerful, and balanced between run D and pass rush.

LB A
As a group, can cover the field and rush the passer.

DB C
Two corners over 30; newcomer Fabian Washington is the key.

ST C
Stover is reliable but short-legged; coverage teams improving.

SPOTLIGHT

Jared Gaither
LEFT TACKLE

When you replace Jonathan Ogden, who retired and islikely bound for Canton, you're going to be under the gun. The 6'9",330-pound Gaither, a second-year player, shows quick feet and forces passrushers to take a wide route to the QB. Says offensive coordinator Cam Cameron,"I like his mental toughness, his calmness under pressure."

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SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
November 13, 2006

LEWIS'S REVAMPED faith, like the man himself, is araw, loud, electric thing, a muscular mix of the sacred and the profane. Everygame day, just before another 60 minutes' worth of NFL hype and violence, Lewiswill dip his fingers in consecrated oil, seek out a half dozen of his fellowdefenders and trace a cross on each of their foreheads.

--S.L. Price

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PHOTOED WOLFSTEIN/ICON SMIGROUND STRIKE McGahee is the foundation of an attack that will be more run-oriented.PHOTOJOHN C. MIDDLEBROOK/CAL SPORT MEDIAPHOTOMICHAEL O'NEILL (COVER)PHOTO