Ryan Bowl to commence in Ravens-Raiders clash

OWINGS MILLS -- A sibling rivalry launched by the brash, wise tutelage of legendary NFL coach Buddy Ryan will unfold today at M&T Bank Stadium as twin brothers Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan clash again under the approving gaze of their defensive-minded father.

Growing up as ball boys for hard-nosed Chicago Bears' teams, the future NFL defensive coordinators were exposed at a young age to the strategy of the ultra-aggressive 46 defense innovated by their father.

Spending time with defensive luminaries like Mike Singletary, Dan Hampton, Gary Fencik and Richard Dent certainly didn't hurt their development as football scholars.

"When they were ball boys, the rest of the ball boys were playing grab-ass, and these guys were watching everything that was going on with the game and the preparation of it," Buddy Ryan said. "They were really into it."

That attention to detail and hunger to learn the game will be on display again as Rex Ryan's Ravens (3-3) take on Rob Ryan's Oakland Raiders (2-4) today in a rare duel of defensive coordinators that grew up in the same household.

Several Baltimore players have dubbed this one as 'The Ryan Bowl."

Bragging rights are at the heart of this encounter, but the Ryan's don't fit the stereotype of warring brothers even though they're incredibly competitive. A strong bond defines their relationship.

The twins like to say they never lost a fight growing up because if you took on one brother, you had to fight both of them.

"We'd fight each other every day, just kidding," Rex Ryan said. "I guess there's some of that, but really I think when you're twins that's different than just brother to brother. I think we would feud with our older brother more than with each other.

"Occasionally, we'd get into it and have disagreements and things. Obviously, Sunday is a huge disagreement. We were really close and still are really close. With dad's profession, you always took your best friend when you moved. So, that was a good thing."

The brothers were never afraid of hard work. Buddy Ryan made sure of that.

Every year, they worked on the Ryan family farm in Kentucky performing hard physical labor. After sundown, they would quiz their father about X's and O's.

"That was the way we relaxed," Rob Ryan told Oakland reporters.

"Our work ethic as college kids and young coaches, it kind of blew people away, but we didn't know any different," Rex Ryan said.

This marks the second time the Ryan brothers have faced off as NFL defensive coordinators with Baltimore dominating a 2006 game in a 28-6 victory headlined by the Ravens' six sacks and three interceptions.

That evened their personal series record as they previously opposed each other at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as at Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.

"We're 3-3 now, so this is the big rubber match," Rex Ryan said. "He wanted me to know that he has two Super Bowl rings. That's fine. I'll let my players represent me and his can represent him, and I'll take that every week. I'm proud of him, but I want him to win every game except this one."

For the record, Rex Ryan has one Super Bowl ring. As a family, the Ryan clan has six Super Bowl rings.

It's not terribly difficult to tell apart the burly twins. Rex Ryan sports a short, business-like haircut, and Rob Ryan exemplifies the Raiders' Hell's Angel image with wild, scraggly long hair.

It's still an uncanny resemblance. Just ask Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington, who played for Rob Ryan until being acquired in a trade from Oakland this spring.

"They sound alike, look alike, and, for the most part, you've got to like both of their defenses," Washington said. "I love the defense out in Oakland, and I love the defense here."

Of course, they have different defensive beliefs. Rex Ryan is an advocate of an unpredictable 3-4 set, and Rob Ryan favors the 4-3 alignment.

It's debatable where Buddy Ryan's loyalty lies today.

"He's a Raider fan," Rob Ryan said this week.

Rex Ryan disagreed, though.

"My dad will be on the sideline with us for a few minutes," he said. "It will be a lot of fun. But when the ball is kicked off, then he is just like anybody else. We really don't care about each other then."

And Ravens coach John Harbaugh is counting on papa Ryan's support.

"We're putting our bids in for Buddy right now," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens feature the NFL's second-ranked defense and are the top run-stopping unit in football having not allowed an opposing runner to gain 100 yards in a league-high 25 consecutive games as linebacker Ray Lewis patrols the middle with free safety Ed Reed leading the secondary.

Conversely, the Raiders rank 26th in total defense, 22nd against the pass and 24th against the run. They've allowed 24 points or higher four times this season despite having two talented cornerbacks in Nmandi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall as well as athletic linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard.

"We're the biggest fans of each other," Rex Ryan said. "I want him to win every week except this one. I always say, 'Keep those guys playing well and you have a chance to be second in the league in defense,' because I always know that we're going to be ahead of him."

Despite the Raiders' struggles as they've allowed 136 rushing yards per game and yielded 159 rushing yards to the New York Jets' Thomas Jones in last week's dramatic overtime win, the Ravens aren't underestimating the Oakland defense.

"Their record is not indicative of the way that defense plays," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "They like to do what they did in the 70s: play every guy one-on-one to see if you can win the one-on-one matchup. If you look at what they did to the Jets, they said, ‘Hey, we're going to play you one-on-one, and then we're going to blitz you.'"

Ironically, the Raiders' top defensive post occupied by his brother could have gone to Rex Ryan in 2004. However, former Ravens coach Brian Billick denied him permission to interview.

So, Rob Ryan got the nod after four years coaching the New England Patriots' linebackers. Rex Ryan became the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2005 when a since-fired Mike Nolan was hired as the San Francisco 49ers' head coach.

The brothers continued their weekly dialogue this week, and had plans to go out to dinner prior to kickoff.

Unlike other weeks where they'll offer each other tips, it's a different story. There will be no quarter asked for or received as the Ryan brothers duke it out once again.

"We'll rip each other and all that kind of stuff," Rex Ryan said. "We'll poke fun at each other. We all know it's down to business Sunday, that's for sure. It does make it special.

"You're going against your brother, and you're both at the highest level you can be as a coach. I know his guys will be ready. They'll be champing at the bit to play. That's just the way he motivates them each week, and I do the same. You're going to feel bad for somebody, and I'd just as soon feel bad for him."



1. Can the Baltimore Ravens keep the running game rolling?

As the Ravens (3-3) take on the Oakland Raiders (2-4) today at M&T Bank Stadium, they'll be looking to pound the football with running back Willis McGahee. He turned in a gutty performance a week ago in a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, gaining 105 yards and scoring on a five-yard touchdown run. He produced 152 yards of total offense despite having his troublesome left knee drained prior to kickoff. The game plan will likely center on getting him plenty of carries and complementing him with fullback Le'Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice. McGahee's health still isn't 100 percent, but he's feeling better these days and was upgraded to full participation in practice Thursday. Against the Dolphins, his running instincts seemed to be coming back to him with how he was reading the holes and was decisive in bursting through them.

Conditioning and health are still issues, but effort isn't and McGahee seems to be winning the coaching staff's confidence. Plus, the Raiders are vulnerable to be gashed with the run. They have allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers over the past three games, including the New York Jets' Thomas Jones rumbling for 159 yards last week. For the season, Oakland, which has a good middle linebacker in Kirk Morrison, is allowing 136.2 rushing yards per game with nine touchdown runs surrendered.

2. Can the Ravens contain Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell?

The big, young pocket passer has thrown five touchdown passes and just two interceptions and has been much more cautious with throwing into traffic than a year ago. The Ravens thrive on creating tturnovers. They have scored defensive touchdowns during two of their three victories (linebacker Terrell Suggs' interception return against the Dolphins and free safety Ed Reed's interception return against the Cleveland Browns) and are 1-2 in the games where they didn't score on defense. The Ravens will need to wrap up properly against Russell, a burly 6-foot-6, 260-pounder who has been sacked 14 times, but is hard to bring down. Plus, the Ravens could have as many as three starters out in the secondary: Samari Rolle (neck surgery), Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion) and Chris McAlister (performance, discipline or his knee?). Russell has struck deep with touchdown passes of 84 and 63 yards this season.

3. Will rookie quarterback Joe Flacco secure the football?

The Raiders have created a lot of pressure with blitzes this season and have generated 16 sacks led by defensive end Kalimba Edwards' four with defensive tackle Terdell Sands recording a career-high two sacks against the Jets. Flacco has fumbled six times this season and needs to do a better job with ball security. The no-huddle offense may prove to be the tonic to this issue. Flacco seems to be in a comfort zone with the hurry-up and the shotgun formation and didn't commit a turnover against the Dolphins, but nearly committed three. He almost threw an interception, botched a handoff and nearly had another fumble.

4. What will Flacco do if the Raiders double-team Derrick Mason or shut him down with one cornerback?

The Raiders have good cornerbacks in DeAngelo Hall and Nmandi Asomugha, and Mason is Flacco's favorite receiver. He leads the team with 33 catches for 418 yards. No other receiver has more than 13 receptions. Strangely, the Ravens seem reluctant to involve former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. He has caught just 11 passes for 120 yards.

5. Who will claim the field-position battle?

Ravens punter Sam Koch and Raiders punter Shane Lechler have been booming their kicks, and rank in the top four in net punt average. Lechler is averaging 48.2 yards, 41.6 net, and Koch is averaging 48.0 yards, 42.9 net. He averaged 59.0 yards, a career-high, against Miami, including a career-high and franchise-record tying 67-yarder. It could be a long day for punt returners.



Ravens MLB Ray Lewis vs. Raiders RB Darren McFadden

Lewis has 46 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in four career games against the Raiders. Yet, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year will be tested today by McFadden. The speedy rookie from Arkansas leads a strong Raiders running game with 341 rushing yards. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound first-round draft pick has true breakway speed and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a 50-yard jaunt under his belt. It will be up to Lewis to match McFadden's mobility, attack the football on the perimeter and intimidate the highly-regarded former Southeastern Conference star. Lewis has already broken Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder, ending his season.


Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Raiders CB DeAngelo Hall

Hall is experiencing a career resurgence after washing out with the Atlanta Falcons, intercepting a team-high three passes. An athletic, gambling defensive back, Hall thrives on taking chances. Sometimes, it backfires. Hall isn't nearly as careful or imposing as his counterpart, Nmandi Asomugha, the Raiders' franchise player. In seven career games against Oakland, Mason has caught 36 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns. In a 2003 contest, he caught 10 passes against the Raiders. His 25 first downs against Oakland are his fourth-most against any NFL team. Mason has established himself as rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite receiver, catching 33 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown.


Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason

1. On Raiders cornerback Nmandi Asomugha: "They do a good job of putting him on one guy and trying to shut down one side of the field. I think he had close to double-digit interceptions last year. When you do that, people tend to stay away from you. And he's playing very good this year.

"So he singles up on one guy, whether it be they match him up or he just takes one side, and he's been very good at minimizing the catches on the other side. I think he probably only has two or three completions on him this whole season, and that's phenomenal considering the way this league is going now as far as passing. DeAngelo Hall, he's not a slouch either."

2. On the no-huddle with Joe Flacco: "I think Joe is very comfortable with the no-huddle. Not too many young quarterbacks are comfortable in that situation. I think Joe thrives in that situation. So if your quarterback is comfortable and your offensive line is comfortable, then you're going to move the ball.

"Anytime you go more than three, four, or five plays against the defense, you kind of wear them out with that no-huddle. That's what we tried to do last week, just get on the ball and stay on the ball and put the pressure on the defense. That's why it was so effective for us last week."

3. On how Willis McGahee boosts the offense: "It makes us very unpredictable. When Willis is running the ball the way he's running it, they can't kill just one thing. Now, not only do they have to stop the run, they've got to concentrate on stopping the run. Then you get the pass. Then they don't know what we're doing.

"At least in Miami, the way Willis was running, they didn't understand if we were going to throw it on first down or run it on first down; throw it on third down or run on third down because of the way Willis and the line and the regulars were running the ball. Hopefully, we can be in that same position this week."


Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall

1. On how Oakland has performed in going 2-4: "Thus far? A little bit below average. I think the record kind of indicates that. But we're just starting to get rolling a little bit. We've got Tom Cable in here now. He definitely has a vision for us. He's a fiery coach, getting us going, and the guys are following behind him.

"His attitude, his attention to detail, the way he holds everybody accountable, that's probably the biggest thing. Everybody's held accountable for their actions, whether it's on the field, whether it's off the field, whether it's not making a play, making a play you're supposed to make. Guys are responding."

2. On defending rookie quarterback Joe Flacco: "Joe has been out there making some plays. He is a rookie, has a lot to learn still, but he has a lot of weapons over there to help him do that. They're playing pretty good football, great defense as well.

"So we're kind of in the same situation as Baltimore. Our defense hasn't been playing as good as theirs, but we've got a young quarterback back here, too, that we're trying to protect, trying to nurture and put him in a position to make plays."

3. On wide receiver Derrick Mason: "I compare him and Joey Galloway. They're the same fine wine, it seems like they get better with age. Derrick Mason gets in and out of those breaks better now than he did back in the day.

"The way D-Mason takes care of his self, his body, his work ethic, I actually remember going against him my rookie year when he was in Tennessee. I've been a fan of his ever since I was a kid. I'm only 24 years old, so I can remember D-Mason at the top of his game. He's not far off."

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