- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ secondary believes it has enough speed to cancel out the St. Louis Rams’ potent offense tomorrow night at the Edward Jones Dome.

Nobody has shut down the Rams’ passing game this season. St. Louis leads the NFL in total offense with 374.5 yards a game and has the league’s top passing attack at 288.1 yards. So what makes the Ravens’ defensive backs think they can do it?

“They’ve got speed. We’ve got speed. So we’re going to get up on the line and press them,” safety Gary Baxter said. “They’re the ‘Fastest Show on Turf,’ but we’ve got speed to match up with those guys. We’re definitely not going to play off them, and we’re definitely not going to be nonchalant with them. We’re going to get up in their face, and it will be a one-on-one battle all day.”

The Ravens (5-3) have the 10th-rated pass defense, allowing 188.6 yards a game. But two of Baltimore’s three losses occurred when its pass defense broke down.

In their season-opening 34-15 loss at Pittsburgh, Tommy Maddox completed 21 of 29 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. Three games ago in a 34-26 loss at Cincinnati, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna completed 16 of 27 for 274 yards and three TDs.

Still, for the most part, the secondary has held up this season. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister has become a premier cover guy. Safety Ed Reed is tied for third in the AFC with four interceptions and is quickly earning a reputation as a playmaker, especially on special teams. As a unit, the Ravens have picked off 11 passes and allowed 11 TDs through the air.

With veteran cornerback Corey Fuller (leg) listed as questionable on the midweek injury report, however, the Ravens have to juggle their secondary against the Rams (5-3).

If Fuller, who was inactive in last Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, can’t play, Baxter will slide into his right corner spot and Will Demps will come off the bench to man Baxter’s free safety position.

Rams receiver Torry Holt, the NFL’s leading receiver with 63 catches for 978 yards and nine TDs, is on pace to set an NFL record for receiving yards in a season. On the other side, the Rams have Isaac Bruce, who has 43 receptions for 692 yards and one touchdown and is a consummate deep threat.

“[The Ravens] have their right to feel [they can play man against us],” said Holt, who averages a league-leading 15.5 yards a reception. “You really can’t tell watching film. … It is just a matter of seeing it on Sunday night.”

One way the Ravens can slow down the Rams’ offense is to pressure quarterback Marc Bulger. Bulger, who has one of the quickest releases in the league, has passed for 2,086 yards with 12 TDs and a 90.3 passer rating. However, Bulger also has tossed nine interceptions.

“There’s a lot of things that have to happen before their wideouts touch the ball,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “They have to get off the jam, then you have to get the ball past Peter [Boulware], [Terrell] Suggs and the rest of them, then you have to worry about getting hit after that. It won’t be flag football — just pitch and throw — no, it’s going to be some real football played. We’ll find out.”

Ravens coach Brian Billick knows what will happen if the game does turn into a pitch-and-throw battle.

“If you let them get separation, it is going to be a long day,” Billick said. “If they get a couple touchdowns up, they are going to want to go four touchdowns up. Third-and-1, they are going to go vertical. That is what they want to do.”

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