- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens’ shell-shocked secondary gets an opportunity this weekend to redeem itself after Sunday’s opening game disaster.

The defensive backs are determined to prove the unit is not as incompetent as it looked against the Pittsburgh Steelers. When the Cleveland Browns come calling Sunday, the Ravens can expect to be challenged by numerous three-wide receiver packages and quarterback Kelly Holcomb.

“Sunday is said and done — there is nothing we can do about that game,” strong safety Ed Reed said. “We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder, definitely. [Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox] had a great game … but at the same time we look to correct those mistakes that we made.”

Last season Baltimore’s secondary had three first-time starters — Reed, cornerback Gary Baxter and free safety Will Demps — which explains why the Ravens had the NFL’s 26th-rated pass defense (224.4 yards a game). This season the only new starter is veteran cornerback Corey Fuller, whom the Ravens signed as a free agent in the offseason from the Browns.

For a team that is touted as having an all-world defense, those pass defense numbers just don’t add up. Maddox shredded the secondary by completing 21 of 29 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns.

When Fuller left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a strained left quad, it threw the secondary into disarray. Baxter was forced to move from free safety to Fuller’s right corner, and second-year safety Demps replaced Baxter at free safety. Fuller is listed as questionable for the Browns but says he intends to play.

Busted coverages and missed assignments highlighted the secondary’s 34-15 loss to the Steelers. On a 28-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, there wasn’t a Ravens defensive back within 10 yards of the wide receiver on a simple slant over the middle. Ward’s touchdown made it 27-0 in the third quarter.

“It had to be a coverage breakdown, but we’re looking to correct those mistakes,” Reed said.

Luckily for the Ravens, Steelers coach Bill Cowher called off Maddox in the final quarter, thus preventing the former XFL quarterback from inflicting more damage. After one game, the Ravens are ranked 19th in NFL pass defense.

Is it too early to characterize the secondary as the “Baltimore bomb squad?”

“You should never characterize anybody after the first game,” Demps said. “We killed ourselves. A lot of the things we saw on film, we’re going to correct and move on.”

One can sense that the Ravens hold Cleveland’s receivers in higher regard than the Steelers’ corps who torched them last Sunday.

Quincy Morgan, Kevin Johnson, Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis are potential home run threats. Where the Steelers’ receivers prefer to move the chains on short passing routes, the Browns’s receivers have first-strike capability.

“That’s Cleveland’s offense, regardless,” said Baxter, downplaying the theory that the Ravens’ defensive backs are marked men. “They come out with three and four wides and spread the field. I think they are going to throw it regardless of what happened in Pittsburgh. We’re better than some of the things that we did. [The Browns are] going to know.”

Getting a better pass rush could also help the secondary. The Ravens sacked Maddox three times but didn’t maintain consistent pressure on the pocket passer all game and subsequently paid for it.

“Not nearly enough,” said rookie pass-rushing specialist Terrell Suggs, who holds the NCAA single-season sack record with 24. “Tommy Maddox sat back there too comfortable, he really wasn’t worried about us and he threw the ball. It’s hard for a secondary to cover when you ain’t got no heat back there.”

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