- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It makes little sense to plan against a quarterback in a West Coast offense when the system itself is the greatest weapon — at least according to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

The San Francisco 49ers (5-6) will test that theory today when quarterback Jeff Garcia returns to face the Ravens (6-5) at M&T; Bank Stadium after missing three games with an ankle injury.

“They’re still West Coast — they do a lot of things West Coast teams do,” Lewis said. “They’ll be basically similar to Seattle.”

With backup Tim Rattay filling in for Garcia, the 49ers went 2-1 and kept their playoff hopes alive. However, Garcia helps San Francisco’s explosive offense with his feet as well as his arm.

“To a point, we don’t do a heck of a lot [of] things different with Tim the three weeks that he’s played and Jeff,” 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said. “What we do offensively is pretty much the same. They are just a little different in the way that they play.

“Tim is more of a dropback-type quarterback who sits in the pocket and throws it. Jeff is more of a creator, he has more mobility and creates plays off of his mobility. There are things that you do different, but our base offense is pretty much the same.”

Whether cornerback Chris McAlister can contain 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens could be crucial for the Ravens. At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, Owens said he is afraid of no one going over the middle. Lewis said Owens, who is tied for fourth in the NFC with 61 receptions for 840 yards and six touchdowns, should stay on the outside.

“He said he’s not scared of anybody coming across the middle — well then don’t come across the middle,” Lewis said. “If he stays on the outside, me and him pretty much won’t bump into each other, unless I run him down to make a hit. But if he comes into the inside, me and him will introduce each other.”

The Ravens must also be mindful of the 49ers’ two running backs. Garrison Hearst has rushed for 721 yards on 166 carries with three touchdowns this season. Kevan Barlow has rushed for 543 yards on 110 carries.

“Change-up and freshness, all the things with the good two-back system that they have, a little subtle difference in style which you have to account for,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “They are going to be fresh. That is something our defense is going to have to account for.”

The 49ers’ offense presents multiple challenges for the Ravens. In three games against the NFC West, the Ravens have surrendered 92 points, a number that could increase today.

“This is a talented team,” Billick said. “You’re talking about maybe the premier receiver in the league, one of the great backs, Jeff Garcia is indeed going to play and makes things happen. This is maybe the most athletic, fastest defense we have faced.”

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