Ravens' defense primed to intimidate

OWINGS MILLS -- Panic, staring aimlessly at guarded receivers, utter confusion and the telltale sign of cleats tapping frenetically to an off-beat song only a young quarterback can hear. That frenzied sequence is often followed by a painful helmet shot in the back or the rude awakening of an interception being returned for a touchdown.

It's the trademark, tormenting experience for a fledgling signal-caller who dares to test his mettle against the Baltimore Ravens' ultra-aggressive defense.

That's what is possibly in store for New York Jets backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, who's regarded as likely to start against Baltimore in its home opener today at M&T Bank Stadium because starter Chad Pennington has a high-ankle sprain.

Unfortunately for Clemens, his first NFL start coincides with the Ravens (0-1) coming off a 27-20 season-opening defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals where the defense limited a high-powered offense to 50 yards after halftime as the offense's six turnovers directly led to 24 points.

"I don't know one person in this organization as well as our city, that's thought about 0-2," said Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who has vowed to play today despite a strained right triceps that kept him out of practice all week. "The bottom line is the Jets pulled a bad draw. It's just the way it comes down."

Clemens' debut is well-timed for the Ravens as quarterback Steve McNair is expected to be a game-time decision today with a groin pull and backup Kyle Boller has taken all of the snaps with the first-team offense this week.

For Clemens, it's a case of the Ravens' library of game film revealing a brutal truth. During last season alone, Baltimore practically turned young quarterbacks into an endangered species.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms tossed three interceptions in a 27-0 loss in his 13th career start. He was also sacked three times, including Lewis' vicious clothesline tackle that severely bruised his chest.

It was even more calamitous for Oakland Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter, who threw three interceptions, fumbled two snaps and was sacked six times in a 28-6 loss.

Between Simms and Walter, they combined for a putrid 18.4 average quarterback rating.

The Ravens contained promising San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, intercepted former Ravens castoff Derek Anderson twice and sacked him six times and beat up on the Cleveland Browns' Charlie Frye. Plus, they intercepted Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman twice and intercepted him three times in his 29th career game.

"We're not a typical defense that you can pick up," safety Ed Reed said. "It's something that takes time for a quarterback that's coming in for the first time. I'm sure he's excited, but, at the same time, somewhere in the back of his mind, he's a little shaken up.

"It might be because you have guys that are coming from everywhere and you never know who's coming. If you haven't seen it before, it's hard to pick it up from studying it in one week's time. We just shake him up and rattle him a little bit to make the coverage harder. You want to get to him as quickly as possible and get in his face."

Reed didn't offer any predictions for what might unfold, but expressed hope that the Ravens would intercept three or four passes.

Two years ago, the Ravens swarmed Jets backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger, savagely sacking him five times in a 13-3 victory. Bollinger apparently never recovered from that game and hasn't done much in the NFL ever since.

"We definitely try to rattle young guys," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "With an older guy, you know that getting hit probably doesn't bother him. That's not always true with a new quarterback, so you hit him to find out if he can take it or not. You want to be aggressive and try to intimidate him."

The Ravens had the NFL's top-ranked defense last year under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, finishing first in the league with 28 interceptions and second with 60 sacks. Now, they are primed for a chance to prove that last week's debacle was the exception, not the rule.

"Rex Ryan doesn't need much prodding to want to bring pressure," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He gets up and is ready to blitz. I'll leave it to Rex to decide what is the best way to approach it."

The Ravens tend to use complex, intricate defensive alignments, employing the elements of surprise, speed and strategy to get inside young quarterbacks' heads to create doubt, confusion and fear.

Yet, Clemens might be tough to rattle. He has two strong receivers outside in Laveraneus Coles and Jerricho Cotchery along with running back Thomas Jones, who broke down Baltimore for 139 yards in a 2005 game when he was with the Chicago Bears.

He passed for 7,555 yards at Oregon and completed 61 percent of his throws. The Ravens thought enough of his potential to schedule him for an official interview at the NFL scouting combine two years ago.

"We really liked him," Billick said. "I remember being very impressed with him. At the combine, we spent time with him and enjoyed it. I thought he was very, very good.

"He has a very strong arm and the Jets have great speed, so that is certainly something that you are going to have to account for. That combination of what they may do can be lethal if you are not on top of it."

Baltimore allowed an NFL-low 264.1 yards per contest last season, limiting the Bengals to 236 yards on Monday. Plus, the Ravens went 7-1 at home last season and allowed an average of a dozen points.

"There's not a lot of weak points in that chain,'' Clemens told New York reporters. "They're very talented. They'll be a challenge for us.''

The Jets (0-1) are coming off a 38-14 loss to the New England Patriots where Pennington and Clemens were sacked a combined five times. Clemens completed 5 of 10 passes for 35 yards and no interceptions in a game followed by the epic Bill Belichick video cheating scandal.

"We've got a good record against most quarterbacks," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We're going to go out there, do what we do, give our different looks, make it challenging for them, and go out there and play Ravens, attacking-style football."

Veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce cautioned against allowing overconfidence to infect the defensive huddle. He reasoned that you don't want to be the team that allows an unproven passer to make a name for himself.

"If you let one of those random, unknown guys to build some confidence, they can hurt you badly," Pryce said. "Some young guys don't really have enough sense to be afraid. They don't think about the consequences, so they just wing it.

"Sometimes, you'll see a young cocky kid out there and he'll say to himself, 'This is like high school. I'm the man!' That's when you know you're in big trouble. Trust me, you want to crush their confidence right away."

NOTE: The Ravens tried out three tight ends this week, including Zac Herold (Nebraska-Omaha), Chad Mustard (North Dakota) and Jake Nordin (Northern Illinois).

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Ravens Insider Top Stories