Shorthanded Ravens secondary gets the job done

OWINGS MILLS -- With a hodge-podge secondary pieced together on the fly like a backyard game of weekend warriors, the Baltimore Ravens were bleeding. <br><br> Aware of the Ravens' predicament caused by injuries to cornerback Chris McAlister and nickel back Deion Sanders, the New York Jets tried to capitalize like a pack of sharks. <br><br> Ultimately, they failed.

During the Ravens' 20-17 overtime victory Sunday, Baltimore (6-3) managed to contain the Jets' passing game despite unusual personnel configurations and substitutions. Once McAlister left the game with a shoulder stinger in the second quarter, New York offensive coordinator Paul Hackett immediately employed three and four wide receiver sets.

"It was a double-whammy for us to adjust to everything they did with the people we had out, but we got it done," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "They jumped right on us, but we stopped the bleeding.
"They responded. It wasn't easy, but they made you say, 'Wow,' in the end."

The Ravens resourcefully counter-punched and allowed only 149 net passing yards. Baltimore trailed 14-0 until safety Ed Reed intercepted Lamont Jordan's halfback option pass to set up the Ravens' first touchdown.

After making halftime adjustments, Baltimore allowed quarterback Quincy Carter to complete only 5 of 14 attempts for 43 yards in the second half.

Veteran Corey Fuller, 33, moved from nickel to starting corner. Gary Baxter became the team's go-to corner in place of McAlister, covering explosive receiver Santana Moss. Stocky dime back Chad Williams moved over to nickel back, where Fuller had been playing because of Sanders' strained left toe. And 240-pound linebacker Bart Scott had to play dime back, the sixth defensive back. Scott actually covered slot receivers like Wayne Chrebet and didn't get embarrassed.

Except for a 47-yard completion to Moss against Ray Walls, the Ravens coped well with the trying circumstances.

"Not only did we have to get Chris' position filled, but we had a whole different scheme to deal with and that compounded our problem," Nolan said. "It's one thing to lose Chris and say, 'Corey, you're on,' but when we lose Chris and they went four wide, Ray Walls was up. Bart was in a new role.

"Gary was all of a sudden on Moss. I give a lot of credit to the Jets. When they saw Chris go down, they said, 'Deion's already down, you got nothing.' They smelled blood."

Because of the Jets' multiple-receiver alignments, Nolan said they only lined up in the 3-4 for 10 out of their 64 defensive snaps. Carter was sacked five times, once by Williams, 1 ½ times by nose guard Kelly Gregg, 1 ½ times by defensive end Marques Douglas and once by outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

Essentially, New York forced the Ravens to spread out and there weren't as many defenders inside to stop the run.

Running back Curtis Martin rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries as fullback Jerald Sowell and center Kevin Mawae wrestled effectively with linebacker Ray Lewis in the open field.

"Mawae was up on Ray every time, and this guy is a good player," Nolan said. "Ray was making the tackle, but he was making it after five or six yards battling with a Pro Bowl center. I give a lot of credit to the Jets."

Scott finished with three tackles, doing his best to shadow an accomplished receiver in Chrebet. The special-teams ace performed adeptly enough that he wasn't targeted extensively by New York as Chrebet finished with three catches for 19 yards.

"Bart had never covered a wide receiver," Nolan said. "He didn't run with him, but he stayed close enough that they didn't throw the ball that way."

With all of the changes, Baltimore had to alter its blitz packages as well as the primary coverage assignments. Fuller, who isn't as fast as he used to be after so many years in the league, got the job done with his intelligence and toughness. The Jets didn't throw a touchdown pass as Carter completed 13 of 22 passes. Justin McCareins only caught two passes for 30 yards.

"Corey did OK," Nolan said. "He hung in there."

Baxter covered Moss most of the time after McAlister's injury, and Moss wound up with three catches for 75 yards with 47 coming on his catch behind Walls.

"With Moss, you don't just say, 'Let's just live with it,'" Nolan said. "It all had to change.What you live with, you can die with."

Nolan said he expects to have McAlister back for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys (3-6) and former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde. If not, they'll go with a similar lineup of players."We'll be better prepared for it," Nolan said. "If another player goes down, we're down to the bare minimum. Our guys, rest assured, will say, 'Let's go, we're ready.'"

NOTES: The Ravens worked out four punters Tuesday, including veteran Ken Walter, but they may wait a few days to sign one. Dave Zastudil is supposed to be out three to four weeks with a separated shoulder, but the team wants to see how he's feeling before making a final decision.
The Ravens cut offensive lineman Damion Cook, making room to sign a punter or activate quarterback Anthony Wright from the physically unable to perform list. The team also terminated the practice-squad contract of wide receiver Michael Jennings and replaced him with defensive back Brandon Pinderhughes.

Walter has punted for the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, and is a former ball boy for the Baltmore franchise. He also can hold for extra points and field goals.

Offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo, tight end Todd Heap, McAlister and Mayor Martin O'Malley presented a house to Robin Edwards and her family in Sandtown on Tuesday. Habitat for Humanity was also presented a check for $25,000. …

Prior to Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens will hold their annual food drive with proceeds going toward the Maryland Food Bank. Non-perishable food items and monetary donations will be accepted.

Aaron Wilson writes for the and the Carroll County Times.

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