Reed, Ravens' defense rebound with better focus

OWINGS MILLS - In darkened film rooms, Ed Reed meticulously takes notes to deduce opposing quarterbacks' intentions. The Baltimore Ravens' strong safety views football as a gladiator's version of a chess match. With his cerebral approach, he never wants to become a pawn.

The embarrassment of being dissected by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox in a loss spurred a week of addressing what specifically went awry. By Sunday, the Ravens' composure and reactions had markedly improved to generate a 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns to even their record.

"We prepared this week to finish," Reed said. "The important thing was to keep our heads up and stay positive. We did some soul-searching. Mainly, I was proud that we concentrated and focused much better."

Reed was one of the focal points of a defense that used strategy and controlled aggression to hold the Browns to one first down in the first half. The Ravens' first-round draft pick from last year intercepted two passes. He returned one for a score as the final seconds ticked off the clock, running over quarterback Kelly Holcomb on his path to the end zone. One Reed interception was negated because he was forced out of bounds when cornerback Chris McAlister banged into him.

"Ed's a very good football player who prepares extremely well," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "He studies a lot of film and takes a lot of notes. Everything meaningful that touches his area, he writes it down. "He's very professional for a young guy. He was a leader at the University of Miami on a national championship team, and he's a leader here."

Every point Cleveland scored was set up by offensive turnovers. The Browns were limited to a measly 2.9 yards per pass play as Holcomb tossed one touchdown pass and had a quarterback rating of 43.4.

Ever the perfectionist, Reed wasn't entirely pleased. "I still think I played kind of bad," said Reed, who has seven interceptions through 18 NFL games. "I made some mistakes out there that we can correct that they didn't expose."

One major change from the previous week for the entire secondary: Not committing personal fouls, although veteran cornerback Corey Fuller was flagged once for taunting his former team. There was a calmer approach in general. "I think we got caught up a little too much at the outset trash-talking to some degree," Nolan said. "I think it was evident that we lost our focus when we did get into the gibbering and jabbering with people.

"It was important for our players to rebound. We're a good team and the guys believe in themselves. There are too many good football players to not play well."

This time, the safeties and cornerbacks didn't commit mental busts in pass coverage. Against the Steelers, miscues caused two third-quarter scores. Reed overplayed his hand and allowed tight end Jay Riemersma to get behind him for one touchdown catch. Safety Will Demps and Reed were nowhere to be found in the deep middle as Hines Ward scooted up the middle untouched for a score. Demps, Reed, McAlister, Fuller and Gary Baxter all played better against the Browns.

"Ed got embarrassed a few times and he was committed to not letting that happen again," secondary coach Donnie Henderson said. "He has too much pride and is too good a football player to respond in any other way than how he did."

Against the Steelers, Baltimore allowed 260 passing yards, three touchdown passes as Maddox compiled a 134.3 quarterback rating. Pittsburgh converted 7-of-15 third downs.

The Ravens held Cleveland to 147 passing yards, allowing first downs on only 4-of-16 third downs and stopping two fourth-down tries. Reed and the secondary disrupted the Browns' timing by employing a sound Cover 2 scheme. The front seven helped matters with three sacks. "Ed Reed's instincts took over," Henderson said. Linebacker Ray Lewis was also a major factor as he contributed a team-high nine tackles with a fumble recovery and two pass deflections.

"I think we made major strides," McAlister said. "We didn't make a lot of mistakes. We played as a unit and everybody was on the same page. I think this was the best we've played."

San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer's offense features tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Drew Brees and receiver David Boston, although Boston might not be available because of a nagging heel injury. The Chargers (0-2) rank 27th in total offense, but the Ravens, especially Reed, aren't taking them lightly. Nolan and Henderson wouldn't expect anything different from their protégé. "Ed puts a lot of thought into everything," Nolan said. "I don't know if he was necessarily in the quarterback's head last game, but he reacted so well. A playmaker like Ed knows how to get to the football."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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