- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. No one needs to remind Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick what his young team faces today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in its home opener at Ravens Stadium.
"This is maybe the most talented team in the NFC in my opinion," Billick said. "You're looking at a Pro Bowler at every single skill position offensively. You're looking at four first-round draft choices on that defensive line. That defense, in particular, is a defense that they have drafted and attacked in free agency over a period of time. This is the same defense they've been running quite a while."
And the numbers seem to back up Billick's claim. Over the past three seasons, the Buccaneers' defensive line has racked up 112 sacks. Tackle Warren Sapp, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, rising star nose tackle Anthony McFarland, end Simeon Rice (11 sacks and 64 tackles in 2001) and left end Greg Spires could make it a long day for the Ravens offensive line.
Sapp has demonstrated he can be a one-man wrecking crew, but don't forget five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks and four-time Pro Bowl strong safety John Lynch. It is a star-studded defensive cast, but Brooks and Lynch make a good number of the big defensive plays.
Last season, in the Buccaneers' 22-10 win over the Ravens, Brooks totaled 20 tackles, two passes defensed, and an interception that he returned 53 yards to the Ravens 1 to set up the Buccaneers' lone touchdown.
The Ravens' offense is a work-in-progress, but must always account for Brooks and Lynch, whom the Buccaneers blitz often. It will be up to Ravens quarterback Chris Redman to make the right reads and avoid the onslaught of the Tampa Bay duo.
"They are pretty much the total package when it comes to defense," said Redman, who made a strong debut last week when he completed 20 of 34 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown in a 10-7 loss to Carolina. "They'll bring one safety [Lynch] up and play eight guys in the box, and when they have that one safety back there, we have to cash in and go deep."
The Ravens (0-1) would like to establish running back Jamal Lewis. Lewis, who sat out all of last season with a torn left ACL, rushed for 64 yards on 17 carries last week in his first game in more than a year. Given the Buccaneers' athletic linemen, rushing yards may be hard to come by.
"They have a great defense, but as far as their scheme, we'll be able to pick things up and be able to do more against them," Lewis said in comparing Tampa Bay's defense to the Panthers'.
In the offseason, the Buccaneers upgraded their underachieving offense. Free agency brought backup quarterback Rob Johnson, running back Michael Pittman, wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, tight ends Marco Battaglia and Ken Dilger, and offensive linemen Lomas Brown, Kerry Jenkins and Roman Oben.
Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson attempted 52 passes in last Sunday's shocking 26-20 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, when punter Tom Tupa botched a punt from his own end zone and threw a game-losing interception to Saints linebacker James Allen.
New Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, who at 39 is the NFL's youngest coach, is expected to have Brad Johnson air it out and try to take advantage of the Ravens secondary particularly second-year cornerback Gary Baxter, who will make his first NFL start. The Ravens plan to use cornerback Chris McAlister in man-to-man coverage against Buccaneers star receiver Keyshawn Johnson and put Baxter in man coverage against McCardell and Jurevicius.
Baxter, who missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, expects to be busy, but remains confident heading into the game. Last week, 36-year-old Panthers quarterback Rodney Peete completed 12 of 19 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens.
"This will be a judgement test for the secondary and the rest of the defense," Baxter said. "I know [the Buccaneers] are going to come see me. They are going to come at me at first, but I expect that and I expect to make plays at the same time."


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