Ravens' defense in familiar position

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' defense was throttling the San Francisco 49ers' poor imitation of an NFL offense Sunday until they suddenly overplayed their hand. In a blatant, here-comes-the-blitz moment, the Ravens sent nearly everyone after journeyman former Baltimore quarterback Trent Dilfer on third down. The gamble didn't pay off, though.

Despite taking a brutal hit from safety Gerome Sapp, Dilfer gamely connected with wide receiver Bryan Gilmore on a 42-yard strike to set up his 23-yard touchdown past the coverage of cornerback Chris McAlister to Arnaz Battle on the ensuing play.

Subtract those two plays from a 9-7 victory, and the Ravens' fourth-ranked defense would have surrendered just 98 yards of total offense and likely manufactured their first shutout of the season.

Still, the Ravens (3-2) allowed a season-low 163 yards of total offense. That didn't satisfy Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott.

"Schematically, we took a chance that we didn't need to, but that happens and we responded," Scott said. "We're disappointed because we shouldn't have given up seven points. It's a high standard of excellence around here, and we want to pitch shutouts, especially against a team that shouldn't have gained a first down against us."

The big qualifer to the Ravens' three sacks, one interception six first downs surrendered, 49 rushing yards with an average of 2.6 per carry and keeping the offense from crossing the 50-yard line all but three times is that all of that success transpired against the 49ers' worst-ranked offense.

Baltimore dominated a 35-year-old quarterback rarely trusted to throw who didn't have the athletic tight end Vernon Davis in the lineup due to a knee injury along with left offensive tackle Jonas Jennings being out for personal reasons.

That said, the Ravens' defense definitely remains the strength of a team that fails to finish what it starts on offense.

Little has changed despite offseason promises of a revamped, dynamic attack as the defense must continue to carry the reigning AFC North champions.

The timing was just right for a defensive revival after allowing 27 points in a loss to the Cleveland Browns, 23 in a win over the Arizona Cardinals and 27 in a season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"This defense is very prideful and the last couple of weeks, a couple things have happened that have cut at the core of that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I'm not going to say the confidence, but the pride they have in what they do.

"And they're going to need that this week and the next week going into the bye. We're going to need this out of our defense the next two weeks. There is no question in my mind that they're capable of doing it and they're very focused on that now."

Despite playing without defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist) and cornerback Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness), Baltimore ranks fourth in total defense by allowing 274.0 yards per contest and first with 13.2 first downs allowed per game.

The run defense ranks second overall, allowing just 66.6 rushing yards, having shut down or contained several accomplished runners, including: the Bengals' Rudi Johnson, the New York Jets' Thomas Jones, the Cardinals' Edgerrin James, the Browns' Jamal Lewis and the 49ers' Frank Gore.

Gore led the NFC in rushing last season, but only managed to gain 52 yards against Baltimore. However, the Ravens are 14th in points allowed with 19.4 given up per game and have only nine sacks after ranking second in the NFL a year ago in that category and finishing first in total defense.

"I don't care about stats," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Bottom line is if they don't get in the end zone, they don't win. When we knew what we had to come into the game with and when the injuries hit, every offensive guy came to a defensive guy and said, 'We need you all to carry us.' We know what that means."

Despite the injuries and other problems, Baltimore has a chance to be 5-2 heading into its bye week if it can take care of business against the winless St. Louis Rams (0-5) this weekend and the Buffalo Bills (1-4) the following week.

If the defense and kicker Matt Stover's leg holds up, the Ravens could conceivably keep winning in this fashion despite an offense that has generated 13 field goals and just five touchdowns.

At least that's a viable scenario until the degree of difficulty increases markedly in the second half of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts.

"We played well, but it's a long season," said Ed Reed, whom Dilfer called the best safety in the NFL after Reed grabbed his third interception of the year. "There's a lot of football left to be played. We can still get much better."

NOTES: The Ravens announced that they have re-signed kicker Rhys Lloyd to the active roster three days after cutting him, terminating the practice squad contract of Romby Bryant. The team's roster now lists rookie wide receiver Matt Willis (UCLA) as back on the practice squad. He was signed to the active roster prior to the 49ers game.

Baltimore worked out former University of Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach and Western Illinois receiver Marco Thomas along with three offensive linemen: Travis Leffew (Louisville), Brandon Torrey (Howard) and Emanuel Akah (Winston-Salem State). None of those players was immediately signed.

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

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