Broncos Defense A Challenge For Ravens

<p>Compact blurs of orange and blue have repeated a familiar pattern all season. The eager, undersized Denver Broncos linebackers have thrived on scooting behind a massive defensive line. <p>Based heavily on exploiting speed and agility, it's a strategy virtually identical to former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis' Super Bowl thesis on dominant defense.

Veteran defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes has engineered a scheme that keeps linebackers John Mobley, Al Wilson and Ian Gold free to penetrate the line of scrimmage. Bulky Chester McGlockton and former Raven tackle Lional "Jelly" Dalton are supposed to occupy the blockers, just as Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams once did for Baltimore All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis.


Entering Monday night's game at Ravens Stadium, the undefeated Broncos lead the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 47.3 yards per contest for a measly three yards per attempt.


The gauntlet has been thrown down to running back Jamal Lewis and his offensive line. Can they mount a running game? Can they do what the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk, the San Francisco 49ers' Kevan Barlow and the Buffalo Bills' Travis Henry couldn't?


"They penetrate and they're very fast, but I think we can get them flowing, get a couple of cutback lanes and be able to run on them," Lewis said of the matchup with the Broncos' linebackers. "They're not spectacular. They don't do anything too different. I think they're an average defense that puts their hats in the right place sometimes. Just because they're ranked No. 1 against the run, doesn't make them great run-stoppers."


Center Mike Flynn's goal is to reach the so-called second level by firing off the line to slow down the Broncos' designated tacklers. Flynn will attempt to use the linebackers' lack of size against them.


Flynn said he'll also try to take the linebackers in the opposite direction of where the Ravens' running plays are designed to go. That way, Lewis can have a clear vision of lanes to burst through. "Those guys can really run, but they're not very big," Flynn said. "So, hopefully, I can be physical with them when I catch up with them."


With Edwin Mulitalo moving back inside to left offensive guard after a failed experiment at right tackle, this kind of game could be right up his alley.

Mulitalo is enthused about leaning on people with his 347 pounds. He's aware of what the Broncos do well, too. "You've got to take your proper angle and, hopefully, they don't beat us to that point," Mulitalo said. "Hopefully, the running backs see that color and cut back if they beat us. Of course, their linebackers are a little smaller, but they are quick. I think it's going to be a good matchup."


Consider Lewis not easily impressed by the Broncos, but the burly, surgically-reconstructed back has an impressive track record against Denver to draw upon, too.


In a 21-3 victory over Denver in the playoffs two years ago, Lewis carried it 30 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a 27-yard touchdown to cap the Ravens' scoring. He even trucked Wilson, his college roommate, on the way to the end zone. "I think Jamal is obviously capable of breaking a game open," quarterback Chris Redman said. "We're going to try to get the ball in his hands."


Lewis insists he's ready for at least 25 carries after rushing for 117 yards on 34 carries and no touchdowns in the Ravens' two losses to open the season. He's also certain he's a better back today than he was when he faced Denver two years ago.

After seeing the running game not emphasized as Baltimore has fallen behind in two contests, Lewis wants to be counted on heavily and early this time. "I've been ready," said Lewis, who is averaging only 3.4 yards with a long carry of 18 yards. "With a running game, you have to get a good rhythm going. The line has to get a feel for the defense, how they're flowing.  If I establish a rhythm, everything will be all right."


Lewis said he needs more carries to warm up and he wants to try to wear down the Denver linebackers. To a man, though, Mobley, Wilson and Gold are exceptionally well-conditioned and strong. The Ravens also have to contend with All-Pro end Trevor Pryce. "I've been in this league a long time so I've seen a lot of really fast players," Ravens All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "So, I don't sit there and look, ‘Wow, this guy's really fast' except maybe Jevon Kearse when he's healthy. I don't ooh and aah over other players. I never have. I never will. We're just going to battle and see who gets the best of it."


Something will have to give, although Denver has been impregnable on defense, setting a standard that approaches the record-setting 2000 Ravens defense.

A published report extrapolated the Denver statistics for the entire season and concluded that Denver is on pace so far to allow 757 rushing yards to the Ravens' 970, with a 47.3 average per game to the Ravens' 60.6. Three games doesn't equal a season, though.


"It's situations," Lewis said. "I've seen guys run the ball on them. Again, I don't see them as that spectacular. I think we can run the ball on them."

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