Ravens looking to move forward

OWINGS MILLS -- In order to salvage a season on the brink of disaster, the winless Baltimore Ravens need shovels to dig out of the dark cavern they've plummeted into along with a compass to locate the end zone and their once-intimidating defensive swagger. For a football team that Ravens coach Brian Billick labeled his most talented ever this summer amidst considerable Super Bowl hype, it's been a colossal underachieving start.

The Ravens (0-2) truly qualify as desperate men Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against the reeling New York Jets (1-2).

A potential 0-3 start could signal the death knell of a season that has already been filled with calamity.

Among the problems: quarterback Kyle Boller being out indefinitely with a toe injury, the running game sputtering to last in the NFL and the team averaging 8.5 points, nine penalties, three turnovers and over four sacks per contest.

Since the advent of the current NFL playoff system in 1990, only three teams that began the season 0-3 have made the playoffs.

"The pressure is on us," running back Jamal Lewis said. "We're 0-2 and we have to climb out of this hole. We wish we didn't have to climb out of this hole, but it's a lesson learned."

The Ravens are hoping to impose their will on Jets former third-string quarterback Brooks Bollinger in his first NFL start following shoulder injuries to Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler.

With two weeks to prepare, the Ravens' veteran-laden defense will face a 25-year-old quarterback who has only thrown nine career passes in three seasons.

"Teams kind of smell blood in the water," Jets offensive guard Pete Kendall said during the aftermath of Pennington and Fiedler getting hurt within a span of seven plays.

Yet, the Ravens' vaunted defense has generated no interceptions, one fumble recovery and one coverage sack. Last season, Baltimore intercepted 21 passes and returned five for touchdowns to lead the league along with a respectable 39 sacks.

Now, the Ravens are minus-5 in turnover margin and tied for 28th in the NFL.

Don't expect the conservative approach that the defense employed against veteran quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Steve McNair. Bollinger is likely to be confronted with intricate blitz packages and disguised coverage schemes to prey on his inexperience. Plus, the Jets' pass blocking has proved suspect.

"Speed of the game," said Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who had 22 ½ sacks in his first two seasons but none this season. "You see our defense on tape and it looks like we're going really slow, it looks so clear to everybody. That thing's happening at 200 mph. He's not going to have as much time as he thinks."

Although the Ravens defeated both backup quarterbacks it faced last season, including Quincy Carter in a 20-17 overtime win over the Jets in the Meadowlands, there are a few notable exceptions in the team's background. Kurt Warner, Bobby Hoying and Rob Johnson all won their first career starts against Baltimore.

During the preseason, teammates called Bollinger, 'The Demolition Man,' because he was running for his life behind blockers who were destined for the unemployment line. Will Baltimore demolish the former Wisconsin standout?

"I know who Wally Pipp is," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You're always worried that the guy comes in and turns out to be a great one. We'll try not to let that happen on our watch."

Offensively, the Ravens are looking to regain their smash-mouth identity by running Lewis early and often against the Jets' 29th-ranked rushing defense. However, they might not have fullback Alan Ricard who will be a game-time decision as he's questionable with a calf injury.

It's a strategy that could reduce the pass-blocking breakdowns that got Boller hurt and endangered backup Anthony Wright with six sacks against the Tennessee Titans. It's especially worthwhile since Jets defensive end John Abraham is a formidable speed rusher who already has three sacks.

"Defenses start breaking, I don't care how good a defense is," Lewis said. "Eventually, it will. You wear them down. You beat them up in the first and second quarter so in the third quarter or fourth quarter you beat them up some more."

The Jets, whose personnel features running back Curtis Martin, wide receiver Laveranues Coles, center Kevin Mawae, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and cornerback Ty Law, are nearly as desperate as Baltimore.

"Both teams are dying for a win right now," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "The team that doesn't get one, they're going to be struggling a little bit."

Billick, whose players have parroted his mantra about today's game being the launch of a 14-game season, has stressed eliminating the mental and physical mistakes that have plagued Baltimore in the team's first 0-2 start in three years. Both previous times the Ravens began the season 0-2 under Billick (1999 and 2002), they didn't make the playoffs.

In last place in the AFC North and trailing the streaking Cincinnati Bengals by 2 ½ games, the Ravens are aware of the possible implications if they squander this prime opportunity to end their losing slide.

"If you focus on consequences, you aren't going to perform very well," Billick said. "You're cognizant of it, you recognize what the obligations are as a professional and what your record means. But if you focus on that you might as well not show up at the game because you can't play this game fearful.

"The NFL will expose fear and hesitation quicker than any venue that I've ever been around. If you're playing a game fearful of the negatives, you have no chance at all."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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