Unheralded Ravens' DL getting the job done

OWINGS MILLS - Instead of being steamrolled by the Kansas City Chiefs' heralded blockers, the Baltimore Ravens' defensive line had a far different response. The blue-collar outfit employed a series of bull rushes, spin moves and swim techniques to contribute heavily to a defense that limited the Chiefs in a 17-10 loss Sunday.

Kansas City features perennial Pro Bowl selections in left tackle Willie Roaf and right guard Will Shields. Yet, All-Pro running back Priest Holmes only gained 90 yards against Baltimore as quarterback Trent Green was sacked three times.

"It was a battle all day," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's probably the best offensive line I've seen in the NFL. "We were overmatched a couple of times, but fought through it and played good, solid team defense. I thought they played very well."

The Ravens don't exactly have headliners up front in nose guard Kelly Gregg and defensive ends Tony Weaver and Marques Douglas.

Not unless rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is counted as an honorary defensive lineman considering the first-round draft pick is operating as a rush end and spends the majority of his practice time with defensive line coach Rex Ryan. Suggs was named NFL defensive rookie of the month after recording four sacks in four games and is tied for third in the league.

Holding undefeated Kansas City to 10 points on offense and roughly 100 yards below its previous average of 366 yards of total offense per contest, wasn't an unexpected showing for a group that's proven to be pivotal in how the defense performs. "They played well against one of the better offensive lines and these are consistent performances," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Those guys are really the foundation of our defense. That's where it all starts."

It begins with a group that doesn't have ideal size, one that Douglas constantly refers to as underrated and underpaid. Embracing those labels might be one reason why the defensive line continues to perform well, though. A chip on their shoulders hasn't seemed to hurt their cause.

Douglas went undrafted out of Howard and bounced between practice squads in New Orleans and Baltimore. He was on the verge of establishing himself last season before blowing out his knee, recovering in time to earn a starting position this fall.

Gregg is a former sixth-round draft pick, a 6-foot, 310-pounder who was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles.

Weaver, a second-round draft pick from Notre Dame, is one of the few players up front with much of a pedigree.

"I'd like to think they were hulks, but they are guys who come to work everyday," Nolan said. "I wouldn't say they punch the clock. They work extremely hard. "They come in early and stay late. They're committed team players and are an integral part of our success."

Defensively, Baltimore ranks seventh in the NFL. The Ravens have limited opponents to 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens held the Chiefs to five rushing first downs. Gregg had five tackles and a sack.

"We knew they had a great offensive line, but we don't let things like that intimidate us," Gregg said. "We just keep working to beat you. That's how we always try to play."

If Suggs continues to develop, Baltimore could free up outside linebacker Peter Boulware more often from his pass coverage responsibilities to allow him to hunt the quarterback. "We don't want to make Terrell the jack of all trades, which is why he's spending most of his time with Rex," Nolan said. "We want to utilize the skills he has."

Meanwhile, fourth-round pick Jarret Johnson is beginning to assert himself at right defensive end and might be in line for increased playing time. The former Alabama standout had a tackle for a loss against the Chiefs, appearing in roughly eight to 10 plays.

"That will double as time goes on," Nolan said. "He's a good football player. That's what Ozzie Newsome and those guys saw when they drafted him. Plus, he's from Alabama."

NOTES: The Ravens auditioned several wide receivers on Wednesday and might sign one soon. However, it wasn't a group of prominent candidates. … Baltimore no longer ranks last in passing offense in the NFL. The Chicago Bears have that unenviable distinction after Monday night's loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Billick is traveling to New Jersey today to tape an appearance on ESPN's NFL Edge Matchup that will air Friday, Saturday and Sunday. "I can think of worse places to spend my time than go up and spend six hours looking at film from around the league with a couple of guys," Billick said of his trip to NFL Films headquarters. "I might find something."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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