Patriot's front 7 poses tough challenge for Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Jim Colletto has experienced an unpleasant vision racing through his mind and his laptop computer all week. <br><br> Imagery of the New England Patriots' stampeding defensive front seven, particularly the behemoths that dwell in the interior line, is enough to short out circuitry. And the real, in-the-flesh version tends to stamp out most quarterbacks and running backs.

When the Ravens (7-3) play the defending Super Bowl champions (9-1) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, it will be one of the offensive line's toughest assignments this season.

"They're very sound, very physical, very big and very good," Colletto said. "I'm worried about their 340-pound nose guards making every tackle. This won't be easy, but that's why we're in this business."

The Patriots are unpredictable. They squeeze space until there isn't much left, and they do everything possible to make up for shortcomings in the secondary created by injuries to starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole.

New England employs a 3-4 defensive alignment that features hefty nose guards in Keith Traylor and rookie Vince Wilfork. Traylor is listed at 6-foot-2 and 340 pounds, and Wilfork, the first-round pick out of Miami, stands 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds but is probably closer to 350 pounds.

"Those guys are huge," said Ravens center Casey Rabach, who will draw the unenviable assignment of blocking Traylor and Wilfork, although he'll likely have double-team assistance from bulky guards Edwin Mulitalo and Bennie Anderson. "They're definitely a load to slow down. This is one of the elite defensive lines in the league. I would say they're as good as it gets up front, especially with their linebackers."

Defensive end Richard Seymour is 6-6, 310, and is beginning to show signs of regaining his Pro Bowl form. Opposite Seymour, 6-5, 300 Ty Warren generated two sacks, a pass deflection and seven solo tackles in a 27-19 win Monday night over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Besides the active defensive line, the Patriots have an aggressive, experienced, ideally-sized group of linebackers for the 3-4 set.

"There's not much that you're going to fool these guys with," Colletto said. "They stay where they're supposed to. They're very disciplined, and they're big and strong."

Outside linebacker Willie McGinest (6-5, 270) is in his 11th season and has 69 career sacks. He has recorded a sack in each of the last three games, including one for a 10-yard loss on Kansas City quarterback Trent Green on the Chiefs' final play of the game.

McGinest leads New England with 6 ½ sacks. As a team, the Patriots have 30 sacks for 185 yards of losses.

Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (6-4, 261) is in his eighth season and registered six solo tackles against the Chiefs.

Inside, the Patriots' emotional leader is Tedy Bruschi, the team's second-leading tackler with 74 and two interceptions. Veteran Ted Johnson excels at stuffing the run and has 72 tackles.

"They don't ever run around blocks," Rabach said of Bruschi and Johnson. "They like to try to jolt you. They hit and they keep hitting. There's very little finesse."

The Patriots also like to use some unusual personnel groupings such as one defensive lineman and five linebackers. They substitute frequently and are confident in backups like 36-year-old linebacker Roman Phifer and Rosevelt Colvin, an injury-plagued outside linebacker who registered a sack against Kansas City.

"They'll give you some unorthodox looks, so you have to be prepared for anything," Colletto said. "They really don't blitz all that much."

New England limited the Chiefs' top-rated rushing game to a season-low 64 rushing yards. Baltimore will be without All-Pro runner Jamal Lewis because of a sprained right ankle, and Chester Taylor will start in his place.

Over the last three games, Baltimore has been limited to 106 rushing yards against Cleveland, 76 yards against the New York Jets and a season-low 59 yards in last Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys.

"If we can go out there and move the ball on the great defense that they have and just put points up and try to get a win, that would be a big boost for our offense going into the end of the season and the playoffs," Taylor said.

The Ravens' offensive strategy is likely to center around quick-hitting plays with Taylor, play-action passes and a lot of safe throws for quarterback Kyle Boller.

If Baltimore can keep the Patriots honest with the running game without Lewis, then they can take a few vertical shots at suspect cornerbacks Earthwind Moreland and Randall Gay.

"We have to give Kyle enough time to throw and Chester enough room to run," Rabach said. "It's going to be a huge challenge, but we're ready."

Aaron Wilson writes for and the Carroll County Times.

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