Ravens' defense sports versatility.

OWINGS MILLS - Three years ago, the Baltimore Ravens built a Super Bowl quality defense around the hallmarks of intimidating linebackers, an opportunistic secondary and a bulky defensive line. Today, the centerpiece of the defense remains hard-hitting linebacker Ray Lewis. Yet, the versatility of Lewis' teammates along with the substitution patterns and scheme of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are major parts of the profile of a defense ranked fifth in the league.

The Ravens allowed no touchdowns for the first time this season in Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos. Two interceptions and a sack in the fourth quarter  led to three scores, boosting the Ravens' 9-6 lead into a 26-6 rout. Baltimore (4-3) also held elusive running back Clinton Portis under 100 yards  while surrendering an average gain of 3.2 yards in 60 plays. "I love the way our defense is playing," cornerback Chris McAlister said. 

When veteran cornerback Corey Fuller injured his hamstring and groin covering a pass intended for Ashley Lelie midway through the fourth quarter, Gary Baxter shifted over from free safety. Four minutes later, Baxter's 34-yard interception return set up Jamal Lewis'  touchdown run to cap a 26-6 victory. "We do have some fairly versatile guys who can play man coverage and blitz,  and guys who can play zone and blitz," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said.  "We're moving guys around and it's been effective. We want to be as aggressive  as we can." 

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware generated his first two sacks  since last season on Sunday. Instead of dropping into pass coverage on third down, as he has the majority  of the season, the Ravens' all-time leading pass rusher operated as a rush end  at the line of scrimmage to harass Broncos journeyman quarterback Danny  Kanell. On virtually every blitz, Boulware was lined up opposite rookie outside  linebacker Terrell Suggs. That's what the team envisioned when it drafted Suggs in  the first round.  "It was Peter's best game so far this year," Nolan said. "He's continued to  work hard and perform at a high level. He just hadn't gotten the production "This time, he got the sacks. Otherwise, it was going to continue to be  frustrating for him. It's nice to have Terrell on the other side to create some  competition." 

The Ravens intercepted Kanell twice and limited him to 114 yards and a 33.5  quarterback rating. Lewis' recognition of Kanell staring down receiver Rod Smith led to his  game-changing interception. Lewis picked the football off and scooted 37 yards to  the Broncos' 20.  Four plays later, Kyle Boller found tight end Terry Jones in the end zone on  a waggle pass for a 16-6 lead. "We came out and clicked on all cylinders," said Lewis, who finished with a  game-high 14 tackles and leads Baltimore with 102 tackles. "We just flew to the  ball." Baltimore held Smith to four receptions for 24 yards, Lelie to three catches  for 28 yards and former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe to two catches for 15  yards. Portis was the Broncos' leading receiver with six catches for 29 yards. "We really did shut down a high-powered offense," Baxter said. "The Broncos  have a lot of weapons. Unfortunately, they were without their starting  quarterback." 

Baxter had nine tackles while recording his second interception of the  season. Both of his interceptions have come at cornerback while substituting for  Fuller or McAlister. "You have to give Gary Baxter a great deal of credit because it's a totally  different game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Your perspective, the calls,  what they mean to you, who is doing the communicating, who you are on, the  techniques that you have to play, it's as dramatic over a broad space as there  is in the game. "To have a Gary Baxter, again the versatility of this team is a key for us  and will be as we go into November and December." 

Adalius Thomas lines up at outside linebacker, with his hand down on the  ground at defensive end, as a gunner on special teams and logs inside duty at  defensive tackle. Nolan has varied the primary defensive alignment, the 3-4 comprised of three  linemen and four linebackers. Often, the defense will reveal a 4-3 look when  it breaks the huddle or morph into a 4-3 at the snap of the football. Baltimore ranks eighth against the run and 12th against the pass with 10  interceptions. Strong safety Ed Reed is tied for the AFC lead with four  interceptions. Baltimore has 17 sacks, led by Suggs' four with two apiece from Thomas,  linebacker Ed Hartwell, nose guard Kelly Gregg, defensive ends Tony Weaver and  Marques Douglas "We have a lot of guys who have the ability to blitz," Nolan said. "That  complements what we're doing whether we're in man or zone. It's all supposed to do  one thing: create pressure." 

NOTE: In an apparent reaction to the latest in a string of off-field  incidents, the Jaguars released linebacker T.J. Slaughter days after his arrest for  felony assault with a firearm. This arrest for allegedly brandishing a gun at two men follows: punter Chris  Hanson being placed on injured reserve after cutting his leg chopping a tree  stump with an axe in the locker room, wide receiver Jimmy Smith's four-game  drug suspension for cocaine use and players called before a grand jury  investigating an alleged drug dealer who sold the players automobile accessories. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, the former Ravens linebackers coach in his first  season, has removed the axe, but not the stump installed as part of a "keep  chopping wood" theme. 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


Ravens Insider Top Stories