- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Without all-world middle linebacker Ray Lewis, nobody gave the Baltimore Ravens' defense even a remote chance of containing the explosive Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Ravens held Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Co. to one touchdown and five field goals by Mike Vanderjagt in the Colts' 22-20 victory. Maybe Baltimore's young defense is better than many realized.
"It's a big challenge when somebody tells you that you can't do anything," second-year middle linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "You're talking about athletes who have gone through Pop Warner [League] and college and have made it through all the odds and obstacles. When you tell an athlete he can't do anything, all you do is motivate them. We went out there and proved that we can play as a defense. We have some great young guys, and you better watch out in the future because we're going to make plays and we're going to be here for awhile."
The Ravens' defense is preparing to go to battle again without Lewis, who is listed as doubtful for tomorrow's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) because of a partially dislocated left shoulder. The availability of Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year and Super Bowl MVP in 2000, will be a game-time decision. But the job the defense did against Indianapolis convinced the unit it can compete without its inspirational leader.
"It just shows that guys want to go out there and step up," nose tackle Kelly Gregg said. "Everyone thought we were going to give up 40 points. We hate the fact that we lost, but overall we did some good things on defense."
To have the Ravens' defense even playing competitively this season after losing seven starters because of salary cap restraints and the expansion draft, is a testament to the front office for identifying inexpensive talent and to the coaching staff for molding it.
The club also lost defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to the Washington Redskins and linebackers coach Jack Del Rio to Carolina, where he became the Panthers' defensive coordinator, and changed its basic defensive scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment.
The Ravens' defense has surrendered eight offensive touchdowns in 20 quarters this season, including only two in the first quarter. With eight takeaways after the first five games, the Ravens are on pace to record a franchise-record 25 this season.
In the first two games of the season both losses the defense allowed an average of 109 rushing yards. In its last three games, the defense has allowed 68 rushing yards a game.
"It's encouraging it lets us know that if we put our minds to something and we play as hard as we can play, we can get some stuff done," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "One thing about this team that a lot of teams don't have is that guys are running around having a great time. A lot of guys are young and don't know they can't play. Our guys are playing just like they did in college. To a man, they're playing well."
The Ravens start aggressive rookies Ed Reed and Will Demps at safety. Gary Baxter is a second-year cornerback. Hartwell, who led the Ravens last week with 13 tackles (nine solo), is starting at middle linebacker after playing solely on special teams his rookie year. On the defensive line, ends Anthony Weaver and Maake Kemoeatu are rookies. and Gregg is in his third year.
Two years ago, the Ravens assembled arguably the greatest defense ever, yielding the fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. At this rate, the defense appears likely to become a dominant force again in a few years.
"We are on track to get back to that level," Boulware said. "I don't think we're there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. The guys are doing well out there."


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