Ravens about to take on former defensive mentor

OWINGS MILLS - The architect of the Baltimore Ravens' ruthless Super Bowl defense is about to confront his creation. Marvin Lewis devised the strategies that helped Baltimore establish a league mark three years ago for fewest points allowed in a 16-game regular season.

Now, the newly-minted Cincinnati Bengals head coach and former Baltimore defensive coordinator will take on his old football team Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Not only will Lewis' Bengals (1-4) have to deal with a stingy defense led by his one-time protégé linebacker Ray Lewis, but also wrangle with NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis. "It's going to be a good reunion," Ray Lewis said. "You're dealing with a head coach with a defensive mind. He likes to play smash-mouth football. So, it should be interesting."

Once the Ravens (3-2) head to Cincinnati, the discussion of past accomplishments will be set aside. It will be time to play football. Beyond Lewis' intellectual contribution, though, it was the players who tackled running backs, intercepted passes and sacked quarterbacks. "He had a great impact on my career and he was the guy who really helped me to get to where I am," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said of Lewis, who departed Baltimore two seasons ago to head the Washington Redskins' defense. "He's a Bengal and I'm a Raven and we have to get it on like that."

Lewis is already being credited for orchestrating a culture change in an NFL city known as a virtual football wasteland for years. Yet, the former Finksburg resident candidly admits that a lot more work is left to complete this reclamation project.

The Bengals have experienced a dozen consecutive losing seasons.

Change has come to Cincinnati, though, under Lewis. Just not an increase in victories, although the Bengals have narrow losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills.

"We have to establish a certain standard of how things are going to get done," Lewis said. "We are going to improve on the guys and at the end you will have a very good football team. Right now, we have to establish a certain foundation and keep chiseling it away every day."

Lewis allowed disgruntled linebacker Takeo Spikes to leave for Buffalo as a free agent. After drafting USC quarterback Carson Palmer with the first overall pick, Lewis has opted to keep the Heisman Trophy winner behind veteran Jon Kitna.

Lewis also lured defensive veterans in linebacker Kevin Hardy, tackle John Thornton and cornerback Tory James.

Cincinnati features Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, brash, talented receiver Chad Johnson, a solid line, speed rusher Justin Smith and experienced linebacker Brian Simmons. They have a wealth of first-round draft picks on the roster due to their struggles.

Lewis phased out old-school strength coach Kim Wood to install Chip Morton, formerly of the Redskins and Ravens, along with assistant Kurtis Shultz, the former University of Maryland basketball team strength coach and Ray Lewis' personal trainer.

The weight room was refurbished at Lewis' urging, getting traditionally flinty owner and personnel disaster expert Mike Brown to open the coffers.

"I think part of the culture change there that Marvin clearly is making is that there needed to be changes," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There had been subtle changes, but not aggressive enough."

The Bengals still lose with regularity, but they're not being judged quite as harshly. Lewis' honeymoon hasn't ended yet. "Marvin has changed the level of professionalism and expectations that we have as a football team," Kitna said. "It hasn't been rewarded in wins yet, but it is coming."

Lewis' impact on the Ravens' Super Bowl title hasn't been discounted in Baltimore. Lewis' schemes received a great portion of the credit allotted to a defense that allowed a league-record 165 points during the 2000 regular season.

Baltimore also finished first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (970), rushing average allowed (2.7), total takeaways (49), fumble recoveries (26) and shutouts with four. The rushing yards allowed remains the fewest in league history. The shutouts were the most by an NFL team since Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain had five in 1976.

"Marvin definitely deserved to be a head coach after his apprenticeships under Brian and Bill Cowher," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Marvin has a lot of energy and he's done a heckuva job in Cincinnati."

Billick noted how Lewis suggested the Ravens' eventual shift to the 3-4 defense engineered under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. The Ravens' defense is ranked eighth in the NFL. Now, Lewis will match his No. 9 overall defense against the burly rushing of Jamal Lewis and the lowest-rated passing offense under rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

Are these still the Bungles, or are they worthy of respect?

"Some 1-4 teams you look at and say, 'They are just sorry.' These guys are just a bounce away from being 3-1, 2-2," Ray Lewis said. "I think Marvin has their spirits up right now, so I think it's going to be fun to see their mentality."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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