OWING MILLS – Two football teams trapped in separate, maddening mazes created by a quarterback crisis are plotting their escape routes.
The Baltimore Ravens have entrusted their offense to former scout team passer Anthony Wright instead of Chris Redman during rookie Kyle Boller's convalescence from leg surgery because of Wright's superior mobility.
And the Miami Dolphins are holding their noses while quarterback Brian Griese keeps committing costly errors through his glaring lack of ability to improvise. South Florida is counting the minutes until starter Jay Fiedler returns from a knee injury.
Today's contest at Pro Player Stadium marks Wright's first regular-season appearance since a stint with the Dallas Cowboys on October 15, 2001. He hasn't taken a snap since signing with Baltimore last year.
"Of course, the hard part for him is that he hasn't played in such a long time so he's bound to have some rust," said Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese, whose team intercepted Wright twice as he completed five of his 20 passes for 35 yards in Dallas' Monday night loss on Christmas three years ago. "He's an excellent athlete with a strong arm, but when we saw him he was young and immature, just like a lot of other quarterbacks.
"It's difficult to predict how he might play against the Dolphins, but you can expect Miami to test him right away and try to confuse him with blitzes."
With all of the potential for catastrophe under center on both sides, the Ravens' remedy will likely be based upon a familiar recipe.
Installed as six-point underdogs, the Ravens (5-4) will try to bash the turmoil-ridden Dolphins (5-4) behind NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis. Baltimore will also attack Griese and slumping power back Ricky Williams with centerpiece linebacker Ray Lewis and the top-ranked defense in the AFC.
This encounter doesn't carry the promise of style points, or much in the way of offense. An old-fashioned slugfest may unfold this afternoon between the Ravens' top-ranked rushing game and the Dolphins' second-ranked rushing defense.
"We're mirrors," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So, whatever team wins is probably going to be the team that is going to be more physical because we are very similar in our approach. That's nothing new in this series."
One year ago, Baltimore absorbed a 26-7 road loss to Miami in dropping to 0-3 in the teams' regular-season meetings.
Jamal Lewis was held to 47 rushing yards on 17 carries.
"I have to do my job," said Lewis, who leads the league with 1,156 rushing yards to go along with a 5.4 average per carry and seven touchdowns. "The last time we played the Dolphins, I didn't do a good job of reading my holes and reading my blocks."
And Ray Lewis, limited by a painful shoulder injury that eventually ended his season and required surgery, wasn't his usual dominant self as Williams rambled for 102 yards.
"We don't believe in letting people run against us," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "We're all about getting in Griese's face and shutting Ricky down. That's how we win football games."
The trend in this series that Billick referred to also applies to the Ravens' 20-3 AFC wild-card victory over the Dolphins during the 2001 season.
With Jamal Lewis out for the season with a knee injury, veteran Terry Allen led the way as Baltimore stomped over the Dolphins with 50 rushing attempts.
"That was a special day for us," Billick said. "We were able to be very physical and get a lot out of the running game and our defense kind of shut them down.
"As we've always said, the two go together. Maintaining our ability to run the ball is also a function of how our defense plays."
Baltimore is coming off a 33-22 loss to St. Louis as the offense committed seven turnovers as the defense held the explosive Rams to a season-low 121 yards with only seven first downs.
The Ravens' offense struggled again in the red zone as Lewis fumbled twice. Plus, receiver Travis Taylor dropped a pass in the first quarter that turned into a Rams interception to set up the Rams' first touchdown.
"It's hard to look the defense in the eye right now," Taylor said. "We've got to get better."
As Baltimore attempts to maintain its lead atop the AFC North over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins are fighting for their season and coach Dave Wannstedt's precarious job security.
Players are bickering in the Dolphins' locker room and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas cited a "loser's mentality" in reference to teammates anonymously criticizing the coaching staff in the press.
"I don't see any pointing fingers," linebacker Junior Seau said. "Was there some frustration trying to explain what's happening? Yeah, I can see that. For the most part, the guys are ready to go."
Thomas is questionable with a groin injury along with cornerback Patrick Surtain, who has six interceptions.
Williams rushed 13 times for 37 yards last week in a loss to the Tennessee Titans and has admitted that he doesn't always run hard.
"We don't believe in 100-yard rushers and they want him to touch it 30, 40 times," Ray Lewis said. "Touch it 30 to 40 times if you want to, we'll be there."
Miami hasn't defeated a team with a winning record and has been affected heavily by Griese's seven turnovers over the last two weeks in losses to the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts.
Griese was sacked four times last week, losing two fumbles and throwing three interceptions. In three games, Griese has a 1-2 record and has been sacked 10 times with three interceptions and four lost fumbles.
Rookie tackle Wade Smith struggled terribly against Titans end Jevon Kearse and couldn't slow down Colts speed rusher Dwight Freeney, either. Now, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware gets his turn.
"The Miami Dolphins might be in turmoil," defensive back Gary Baxter said, "but we're not going to take them lightly. They definitely have playmakers.
"The worst thing we could do is to come off a good defensive performance and take these guys lightly. That would be a huge mistake. We're not going to do that."
Meanwhile, the Ravens are hoping Wright's arm strength and mobility can complement their formidable running game and overall defense.
Anticipate a steady diet of waggle passes, deep balls to tight end Todd Heap and Taylor and swing passes to the backs.
Wright was 1-4 as a starter with the Cowboys, eventually losing his job to Quincy Carter, whom owner Jerry Jones had hand-picked to be the starter and invested significantly more dollars.
Wright has observed from afar how Carter is flourishing under Dallas coach Bill Parcells' tutelage.
"It's a lot of inspiration," Wright said. "It shows the fact that with proper coaching and proper work you can develop into one of those types of quarterbacks. I understand what the coaches expect of me. Therefore, I think I can fit into that same mold."
Wright, 27, has completed 46.4 percent of his career passes for 766 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 50.8 quarterback rating.
How will he handle this interim opportunity to be the caretaker of the Ravens' offense until Boller returns?
"I don't have a lot of concerns about his ability to step up," Billick said. "He's been under the bright lights. This isn't some young kid that is coming off the streets."