Ravens want to continue tradition of defense

Ray Lewis has been applying an analogy to describe the Baltimore Ravens' swarming defense. It's a theme centered on how a tradition of dominance can overcome a mass migration. It involves one of the All-Pro middle linebacker's favorite pastimes: watching the Wildlife Channel. "I always see how the king of the lions controls his territory," Lewis said. "You don't know what you're going to get out of us."

"One thing you do know is you're going to see a fast, aggressive and a helluva athletic team. When an animal is backed into its corner, it's very dangerous."

The unit that propelled Baltimore to a Super Bowl victory is no more. One of the top defenses in recent memory has been scattered like ashes in the wind by the impact of the league's salary cap.

All that's left from that defensive troupe is Lewis, the fiery former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, intense, aging defensive end Michael McCrary, pass rushing specialist Peter Boulware and imposing, underrated cornerback Chris McAlister.

 However, Lewis' point about how he can lead hungry, young lions to a great meal is beginning to look more valid based on the way Baltimore shut down the Detroit Lions for a 12-6 preseason win last Friday night at Ravens Stadium.

During the christening of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's 3-4 alignment in Baltimore, the Ravens sacked Lions quarterbacks eight times through relentless pressure, including more blitzes than Marvin Lewis used to employ.

The Ravens created three turnovers, including the game-winning points on rookie safety Will Demps' 18-yard interception of highly touted Lions rookie quarterback Joey Harrington.

Lewis' description of the action without several injured starters: "That's scary."

To a man, young players said the combination of Lewis' raw enthusiasm and Nolan's aggressive approach paid dividends.

"It's contagious," Demps said of Lewis' influence. "It's almost like carrying a disease around here, but in a good way. You can build off of his emotion."

Detroit was only able to manage 166 yards of total offense, an average of 2.6 yards per play, a 5-of-17 conversion ratio on third down along with five first downs in the first half on 56 yards. The Lions couldn't generate a first down on five of their first six offensive series.

It resembled old times for the Ravens despite the absence of departed standouts like cornerback Duane Starks, safeties Rod Woodson and Corey Harris, tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams and linebacker Jamie Sharper.

"The defense, they set the standard a long time ago, and we plan to live up to those standards," said linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, who collected two sacks as Lewis' partner inside. "Anytime you play the Ravens, you're playing an enthusiastic defense that's going to run to the football and hit you. You better watch out."

The Ravens have some lofty heights to aspire to, though. Last season, Baltimore ranked second in the league in total defense, fourth against the run, eighth against the pass.

It also lost key contributors like defensive linemen Lional Dalton, Larry Webster and Rob Burnett in free agency.

Depth is no longer at a premium, although players like linemen Kelly Gregg, Marques Douglas, Maake Komoeatu and Nate Bolling opened some eyes with their performances, working in tandem with outside linebacker Shannon Taylor, safety Chad Williams and cornerback Alvin Porter. Also, safety Ed Reed, the first-round pick from Miami (Fla.), is beginning to round into form after a week-long holdout.

 "Mike Nolan is very aggressive," said Adalius Thomas, a converted defensive end moving to outside linebacker in the new defense. "That goes right to the integrity of our defense. We're tackling, hitting hard and having fun."

Baltimore is waiting for Boulware and McCrary to recover from nagging injuries and come off of the physically unable to perform list. Projected starting cornerback Gary Baxter is nursing a strained hamstring. Rookie defensive end Anthony Weaver, the second-round pick from Notre Dame, is out with a high ankle sprain.

Adams' representative, Roosevelt Barnes, has yet to agree to a contract offer with the Ravens' negotiators to strengthen the middle of the line.

Still, the Ravens remain confident.

 "These young guys are just as hungry as we are," McAlister said. "They know their assignments, and we've got a lot of young, talented guys out there."

The club paved its road to the Super Bowl without much of an offense, relying on a group which set a record for fewest points allowed in a regular season with 165.

 Repeating that past success seems unlikely, but Lewis believes what happened against Detroit isn't an aberration, that the Ravens can put a stranglehold on offenses while their young offense matures. The New York Jets should be more of a true test of this defense's competence Thursday night at Ravens Stadium.

"It's cool just to know that these young guys are learning this quickly and want to be good," said Lewis, who only had to make one tackle in limited work against the Lions after leading the league with 196 last season. "I'm not surprised at all. I see them everyday in practice."

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