- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Chris McAlister thinks of himself as a Pro Bowl performer even though he has never been voted to the NFL's postseason showcase. The Baltimore Ravens' third-year cornerback thought he should have been hanging out in Hawaii last year.

Well, he can start proving that belief today by shutting down the Denver Broncos' Rod Smith, the NFL's leading receiver.

Smith leads the league in receptions (23) and receiving yards (277), and his three touchdown receptions are tied for the league lead.

With wide receiver Ed McCaffrey out for the season with a broken leg and running back Terrell Davis sidelined after another knee surgery, Smith becomes the Broncos' biggest weapon for this nationally televised AFC showdown at Denver's new Invesco Field at Mile High.

Last week, Smith was sensational. He caught 14 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals.

In the week leading up to last year's AFC wild-card game between these teams a game the Ravens won 21-3 McAlister boasted that the Ravens see more skilled receivers each week in the AFC Central than McCaffrey and Smith two 100-catch receivers. For this game, McAlister toned it down a bit.

"I take whatever I'm dealt. That's the bottom line. I'm not going to throw myself up against anybody and say, 'I want this guy or that guy,' " McAlister said. "I'll take whoever comes to my side, that's who I'm guarding."

The Ravens (1-1) will need to contain Smith and quarterback Brian Griese to beat the Broncos. Griese is the NFL's leading passer with a 134.9 rating. Griese, who has never faced the Ravens, has six TD passes this season with no interceptions and is protected by perhaps the league's best offensive line.

Griese, who led the NFL in passing last season, sat out the playoff game against the Ravens because of a shoulder injury.

"He's just in complete control of their offense," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He really has a feel of where everybody is, what the timing is, when something is not going to work he knows to get rid of it. He knows how to hold it just long enough to make something happen but not too long to leave himself vulnerable."

The Ravens also won't win this game unless they are able to run the ball. In their last 74 games, the Broncos (2-0) are 2-16 when opponents have more rushing attempts but are 50-6 when they have more rushing attempts than opponents.

The Ravens have the 29th-rated rushing attack in the 31-team NFL. Ravens feature back Terry Allen has rushed 37 times for 98 yards (2.6 a carry) this season. It has not been all Allen's fault. The Ravens' offensive line has not created holes for the 11-year veteran.

Rookie Bennie Anderson likely will replace veteran Kipp Vickers at right guard today. Sammy Williams and Erik Williams will split time at right tackle. The Ravens were able to overcome their inability to run the ball in their 17-6 season-opening win over the Chicago Bears, but the Cincinnati Bengals made the Ravens pay for their bogged-down ground game in last week's shocking 21-10 upset.

"Are we sitting here licking our chops because they've struggled running the ball? Absolutely not," said Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski.

The good news for the Ravens offense is quarterback Elvis Grbac's history against the Broncos. Grbac is 4-1 as a starter against the Broncos from his playing days with the Kansas City Chiefs. His familiarity with the altitude, crowd noise and opponent may prove beneficial. Grbac also would like to redeem himself for last week's three-interception performance.

"You've got to balance it out against these guys. You've got to be able to run the ball, and you've got to score points," Grbac said. "Anytime you go into Mile High, you've got to be able to score points. [Broncos coach] Mike Shanahan and that offense, they know how to do it on that side of the ball. We can't get into a situation where we get behind a little bit and just start throwing the ball all over the place. I've learned that in the past against their defense and their mindset."

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