Ravens trying to corral McNabb

OWINGS MILLS -- Corralling an elite escape artist requires drastic measures. <br><br> In the case of elusive Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, it's a situation complicated by his accuracy, composure and the presence of ultra-dangerous wideout Terrell Owens.

For the Baltimore Ravens (4-2), competing with the undefeated Eagles (6-0) on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field means executing a delicate balancing act of keeping McNabb from scrambling all over the field to create time to add to his eight touchdown passes to Owens.

"He's the captain of their ship," cornerback Gary Baxter said of McNabb, who's completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions. "He runs the whole thing. You've got to understand that guy right there is the one who makes their offense move.

"You have to always account for him because he has really stepped his game up and is having an awesome season. Hats off to Terrell Owens because he's a great player, but without Donovan McNabb, I don't think there'd be any T.O. and the Eagles wouldn't be where they are."

The Ravens have experience at matching wits with mobile quarterbacks. During the 2002 season, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's unit flustered Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in a 20-17 loss.

Using disciplined rush lanes and spying liberally with safeties and linebackers, Baltimore lost the game but held Vick to minus-5 rushing yards with three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and 12-of-24 passing for 136 yards.

"Everything is still the same as then as far as our personnel and the way we want to make the quarterback retreat and squeeze the pocket," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "Everybody has to keep integrity in their lanes. You sacrifice for the team.

"One person isn't going to stop Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb. It takes great coverage and getting a pass rush. You need all 11 guys to play as one."

The Ravens sacked statuesque Buffalo Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe four times in a 20-6 win last Sunday and intercepted him four times.

McNabb is a completely different type of quarterback, much more athletic and aware of his surroundings. He doesn't run as much as he used to, but has rushed for 70 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

In the Eagles' 34-31 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns last week, McNabb threw four touchdown passes and set up David Akers' game-winning 50-yard field goal with a 28-yard run.
"If he takes off, he could be 10 yards downfield before you can react," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "We're still going to bring it. We're going to try to get him down on the ground because he can pick you apart if you aren't aggressive."

McNabb has been to the Pro Bowl four times, but he's playing at another level this season. He ranks third in the NFL in passing yards (1,753), touchdown passes and passer rating (105.6) with a career-best 8.23 yards per attempt. He threw for 376 yards against Cleveland, completing passes to 10 different receivers.

"Any quarterback you prefer to stay in the pocket," nickel back Deion Sanders said. "You prefer Mike Vick to stay in the pocket. You prefer McNabb to stay in the pocket. Back in the day, you preferred Steve Young to stay in the pocket.

"Because when guys like that get out of the pocket, their versatility can beat you. We want him in the pocket and hopefully we'll make plays in the secondary."

Several of McNabb-to-Owens completions were built around the quarterback's ad-libbing. The potent tandem has connected six times on passes of 40 yards or more.

"Usually, a deep route is a function of timing," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But with his arm and his ability to buy time in the pocket and T.O.'s ability to get down the field and muscle people, it's an unorthodox way to go deep which you don't see very often."

McNabb often buys time for his receivers to break off their routes with his ability to improvise. That can create defensive doubt, and light up scoreboards.

"It's very hard," Baxter said. "Not even Deion Sanders can keep coverage on a guy when a receiver is breaking his route off and you have a quarterback who is moving around. We have to stay with our guy until we hear a whistle. If they go to the bathroom, we have to go to the bathroom right with them.

"McNabb has really been accurate this year and has made a lot of great throws. You can't let him sit in the pocket and have lunch or he's going to chew you up."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com

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