Ravens' defense looking to stop the bleeding

OWINGS MILLS - All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis kept checking his bandaged nose to see if had stopped bleeding hours after a barrage of blocks from a fullback, center and guards. <br><br> The damage the Kansas City Chiefs' brutish running game inflicted on the Baltimore Ravens' usually stout defense in a 27-24 loss Monday night was more than cosmetic and hurtful to their pride.

It exposed the Ravens (2-2) as vulnerable against the run when offenses have the right personnel and follow the strategy of running directly at Lewis as the Tennessee Titans did in last year's playoff loss.

"They followed the blueprint of the Titans from the playoff game," said Lewis, who was isolated in single-blocking by center Casey Wiegmann, guards Will Shields and Brian Waters and fullback Tony Richardson. "They sent two blockers after me on every play. That wasn't us. We will be back and we know it."

Versatile former Baltimore starter Priest Holmes gained 125 yards on 33 carries to break a string of nine consecutive games of holding opposing runners to less than 100 yards.

It dropped the Ravens to 21st overall in total defense, 18th against the run, as Kansas City gained 398 yards of total offense for the highest total allowed by Baltimore in two years. The Ravens are allowing 339 yards of total offense per contest.

Was this debacle against the Chiefs an aberration or the start of a troubling trend as the Ravens prepare to play a Sunday night game at the Washington Redskins (1-3)?

"Are we all of a sudden not a good defense? I don't think so," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They manhandled us. We're certainly not going to panic here. We just couldn't keep up with their physicality."

The Chiefs' strategy prevented Lewis from roaming free to chase the football, which he does as well or better than anyone in the league.

"You have to attack Ray," Chiefs offensive tackle Willie Roaf said. "You don't want to let him make plays chasing things from behind."

Added Richardson: "Ray was bleeding at the end of the game."
When Ray Lewis was asked if Redskins running back Clinton Portis was as formidable a threat as Holmes, he had a quick answer.
"Portis isn't Priest," Lewis said. "It's not the same."

Portis has rushed for 369 yards on 92 carries and two touchdowns for Washington, which has lost three consecutive games under veteran coach Joe Gibbs. Portis is coming off a 58-yard outing that included a fumble in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.

"I think everybody in the league recognizes it as a premier defense with great football players," Gibbs said Wednesday regarding Baltimore. "I think it was one of those situations that can happen to anybody on a given night where the other team plays its absolutely best game."

The secondary and defensive line faltered badly at critical junctures, allowing quarterback Trent Green to escape for only one sack as Kansas City converted 8 of 16 third downs.

"The most disturbing part was probably the third downs, them converting on a number of third-and-longs," Billick said.
Green managed to complete 21 of 31 passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and a 99.3 passer rating as he completed passes to six different receivers. Baltimore had collected two sacks, four sacks and four sacks in the first three games.

"They stuck it to us," said defensive end Tony Weaver, who posted the Ravens' only sack. "They had a game plan, stuck to it and took it to us."

Baltimore is surrendering 222.8 yards per game, allowing opposing passers to average 55 percent accuracy, 6.87 yards per attempt with four touchdowns.

Cornerback Chris McAlister, the team's franchise player, skipped training camp because of a contract dispute and nickel back Deion Sanders has been out for two weeks with a strained hamstring.

"They're still coming together as a unit," Billick said. "It needs to come together very quickly here. Preseason's over. They've had four games.

"We've talked about the pieces coming together with the Chris and Deion situation. We have a lot of faith in that group, but it' s a group that needs to step up and continue to get better."

The defensive breakdowns had a cumulative effect, too, on the entire team.

It kept frustrated running back Jamal Lewis off the field as Baltimore allowed Kansas City to control the clock for 39:43. The Pro Bowl runner said that he nearly pulled a muscle in the second half because he was cooling down due to inactivity.

"We didn't take advantage of their weakness, which was to pound the ball on them and run it down their throat," Jamal Lewis said after being limited to 73 yards on 15 carries.

The Ravens have an opportunity Sunday night, after three days of practice, in another nationally televised game to get back to their stingy ways and stop the bleeding.

"Having been embarrassed Monday night," Billick said, "they'll want to get back and show that they're better than that."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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