Ravens trying to solve no-huddle attacks

OWINGS MILLS -- The element of surprise involving at least one strategic gambit is likely to disappear, but that won't stop quarterbacks from challenging the Baltimore Ravens' shorthanded defense. Now, the Ravens' secondary knows exactly what's coming after two consecutive weeks of being victimized by no-huddle offenses during the fourth quarter.

Since being carved up by a pair of backup quarterbacks -- the New York Jets' Kellen Clemens and the Arizona Cardinals' Kurt Warner -- the NFL's reigning top-ranked defense has been plotting their adjustments.

With this being a trend-driven league and Baltimore allowing a combined 327 passing yards and a 114.0 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter over the past two games, the Ravens (2-1) won't be shocked if the Cleveland Browns (1-2) and other opponents attempt a similar game plan until they prove they can slow down or halt a hurry-up attack.

"Yeah for the past two teams, it's worked pretty good, and, if they think we haven't fixed it yet, why not try it again and see how it goes," said nickel back Corey Ivy, who will start at cornerback again Sunday with starter Samari Rolle out with an undisclosed illness for the second consecutive week. "We've prepared ourselves for that situation, and if the opportunity presents itself again we'll be ready to go.

"Fatigue is not the issue because we practice hard. We just need to transfer the calls and execute it. They found a couple of holes in a couple of our defenses, and we just need to plug those up."

In particular, the Cardinals created chronic matchup problems for the Ravens as star wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught a career-high 14 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns as Baltimore held on for a 26-23 victory.

During Baltimore's 20-13 win the previous week, Jets wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery thrived with seven catches for 165 yards and Baltimore benefited heavily from two dropped potential touchdown catches from Justin McCareins.

Baltimore has been outscored 35-16 in the fourth quarter this season, and Warner completed 11 of 14 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes last week to erase a 23-6 deficit.

How Warner adeptly orchestrated the no-huddle offense could serve as a potential blueprint for several other quarterbacks looming on the schedule, including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

"I think so, I think a lot of teams will look at that tape of this past game to see what Arizona was doing," nickel back Ronnie Prude said. "I expect a lot of teams to try to use that to their advantage, but I think we're preparing well. We have had time to adjust to it, get the calls out there and go play."

With Rolle out, Ivy's promotion meant that Prude had to step in as the nickel back. This week in practice, Prude, David Pittman and Derrick Martin have all been vying for playing time at that critical position.

"Obviously, the next guy has to step up," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We expect the backup to maintain the level of play of the starter, if not even improve it a little bit. So, they've got to prepare and do a great job.

"Last week, it came as more of a shock to us than it did this week. This week, we're prepared to move on. I think the guys in there will make a good account of themselves."

However, Prude is coming off a rough outing. Prude, who was singled out by middle linebacker Ray Lewis as being the mismatch that Warner kept exploiting, said he carries a history of rebounding from a bad game.

"I'm pretty sure in my ability that I'm always going to bounce back," Prude said. "I have the confidence as a cornerback. Short-term memory, you know?"

Pittman received an audition during the preseason, starting against the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons. For the most part, he fared well with the exception of not turning around to defend a long pass as he matched wideout Santana Moss' speed.

Of the reserve defensive backs, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound, second-year pro has the best combination of size and speed and the highest draft status as a former third-round pick.

"All of us have been rotating this week and I really don't know who will play because it's undecided," Pittman said. "Corey will start, but the other one is between me and Martin and Prude. I'm definitely excited, but you just don't know until they tell you if you're going to be called on."

A former Pro Bowl selection, Rolle's experience was a critical factor for the Ravens' defense.

He has played a decade in the NFL with 118 career starts and 27 career interceptions.

Now, the Ravens need someone else to step forward to quell the fourth-quarter breakdowns and mass confusion against the no-huddle.

"Anytime you take a starter out and someone at a pivotal position like that, the next guy has to step up," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So, your question about David Pittman or Ronnie Prude is very appropriate because when Corey Ivy has to fill that position, someone has to step up into Corey Ivy's position both on special teams and on defense."

Meanwhile, Ivy is looking for improvement in his game after recording five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery after ripping the football out of the hands of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"I want to play even better," Ivy said. "You never want to stay the same as a football player. I can do more and make more big plays just by spending more time out there with the rest of the guys to get the chemistry down."

At 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, Ivy isn't as big as most NFL cornerbacks. Yet, he's feisty and hard-hitting; two attributes that haven't escaped the notice of Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"Corey's played very, very tough against two very, very good receivers," Billick said in a reference to Boldin and Fitzgerald, two Pro Bowl selections. "And the competitive toughness that you knew he would bring to the field is the thing it comes down to."

Ivy will need those qualities this week against a streaky Browns offense that generated 51 points in a shootout win over the Cincinnati Bengals as former Baltimore quarterback Derek Anderson tossed five touchdown passes.

The Browns also feature size and speed outside with wide receiver Braylon Edwards (15 catches, 278 yards, three touchdowns) and brash tight end Kellen Winslow (16 catches, 271 yards, one touchdown), who is expected to play despite a shoulder injury.

"They're very talented," Ivy said. "With Edwards an emerging star in this league and Kellen Winslow, whose name speaks for itself, plus Joe Jurevicius, they have some formidable weapons. It's another big challenge for us, but we'll be ready."

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

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