Ravens' defense expects to be tested

OWINGS MILLS -- It's such a predictable strategy that it almost defies conventional wisdom that the Philadelphia Eagles might attempt to pile drive the Baltimore Ravens' defense with the running game.

One week removed from the New York Giants' top-ranked rushing attack gashing Baltimore for 207 yards on the ground, the Ravens are gearing up for a potentially like-minded challenge from the Eagles.

Of course, the Eagles feature shifty runner Brian Westbrook and aren't nearly as physical as the Giants. Philadelphia has the NFL's 26th-ranked rushing offense.

Nonetheless, the Ravens' third-ranked run defense is expecting to be treated differently until proving it's business as usual by turning in another patented shutdown Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"After you have a game like that, a lot of teams tend to try you," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "So, I think it's going to be physical. I think they're going to come try to hammer us at M&T.

"Absolutely, I would. Wouldn't you? I think everybody is going to come try us."

For the season, the Ravens are allowing just 79.6 rushing yards per contest. The Eagles are averaging only 95.3 rushing yards per game.

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan acknowledged that the Ravens can't just tak e out their frustrations on Philadelphia, which ranks fourth overall in passing offense.

"Every game is different, so taking frustrations out, boy, I wish it was that easy," Ryan said. "This is no easy task, by any stretch."

Ryan's trademark competitiveness was on display when he was asked if he expects opposing offenses to watch the Giants' game film and expect similar results.

"I hope so," he said. "I mean, yeah, I think so."

INJURY REPORT: Offensive tackle Jared Gaither is no longer wearing a sling on his right arm, but didn't practice for the second consecutive day and is expected to miss this game because of AC damage to his right shoulder.

"I'm getting better," Gaither said Thursday. "Every second of the day."

Adam Terry lined up at left tackle with Willie Anderson playing right tackle at practice with the first-team offense.

Meanwhile, three starters returned to practice as wide receiver Derrick Mason (dislocated left shoulder), free safety Ed Reed (neck) and cornerback Samari Rolle (neck surgery/shoulder) were upgraded to limited participation.

Mason and Rolle were wearing red jerseys, which signifies that they are off-limits to contact drills.

Rolle demonstrated to reporters that his left shoulder, which was protected with his arm in a sling Wednesday, is feeling much better. He raised both arms above his head in the locker room as if he were signaling for a touchdown.

"I'm good to go," Rolle said. "I'm just older now, that's all."

Anderson (sprained ankle), defensive tackle Lamar Divens (shoulder) and offensive tackle David Hale (thigh) were limited.

Tight end Daniel Wilcox (hamstring) and safety Tom Zbikowski (thumb/thigh) were upgraded to full participation.

DRAWING COMPARISONS: Diminutive Ravens rookie running back Ray Rice has drawn comparisons to Westbrook, a versatile all-purpose threat who led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage last season.

Hampered by a sprained right ankle, knee problems and fractured ribs, Westbrook has still generated 726 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns, including 508 rushing yards and six touchdown runs.

"He's probably one of the greatest competitors that you would ever find yourself around," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You're talking about being able to do anything out of the backfield: running, catching, pass block, whatever it is. He has the ability to do all those things."

Meanwhile, Rice has contributed 375 rushing yards and 24 receptions for 208 yards. The second-round draft pick from Rutgers is similar in size and in his approach to football to Westbrook.

"They're change-of-direction running backs," Lewis said. "Ray Rice has the same type of abilities: real low to the ground, can make a lot of nice, sharp cuts. Westbrook is kind of the master of it right now, and he's just a great player when you're sitting there watching him on film."

SHUT DOWN: Although swift return specialist Yamon Figurs has been in a season-long rut with a paltry 6.5 punt return average and a 21.2 kickoff return average, the Ravens aren't contemplating a change.

"He's our returner, right now," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "We've got him back there. We do have other guys that can return the ball, and they're always looking for opportunities, but we expect big things out of Yamon."

Figurs' longest punt return is 35 yards. His longest kickoff return is 29 yards. And he has fumbled twice, losing none, not coming close to scoring after notching a punt return and a kickoff return for touchdowns last season.

"It's a team effort when you get a return, real frankly," Rosburg said. "Part of that has been blocking. Part of that has been getting used to the new system that we run. It's different than the one he was in before.

"Part of it is he's been nicked up a little bit over the course of the season. Hopefully now, he's over that hump and everybody else in the units understand what they're supposed to be doing. We're looking for big things from this point forward. We think that down the stretch we'll see some results from Yamon."

Meanwhile, Rosburg expressed confidence that the Ravens have addressed the interior blocking issue that contributed to Matt Stover's blocked field goal against the Giants. Stover was also culpable with a low angle on the 32-yard attempt.

"Yes, we do," he said. "It's one of those situations where you're preaching it every week. When it happens to you, it slaps you right in the face. There's an old expression that, 'It doesn't catch up to you until it catches up to you.' I think there's been a renewed attention to every little detail in all of our protections as a result of that situation."

QUICK HITS: Rolle is impressed by Eagles speedy rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who leads his team with 42 catches for 652 yards and one touchdown catch as well as a punt return for a score. "For a rookie, he's done a great job," Rolle said. "I liked him in high school when I saw him in an all-star game diving for a touchdown." ... Westbrook didn't practice for the second consecutive day. Safety Brian Dawkins (groin) was limited. Former Naval Academy running b ack Kyle Eckel (back) and safety Quintin Demps (rib) were added to the injury report, but participated fully. ... The Eagles are 1-0-1 all-time against Baltimore, tying the Ravens 10-10 on Nov. 16, 1997. ... Signing former New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel during the offseason has boosted the Eagles' secondary. He leads the team with three interceptions and Philadelphia ranks 11th in the league in passing defense. "He does a great job of playing the quarterback and playing the receiver," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He sees it all. He does a great job of breaking on different throws. He closes exceptionally well. He adds another tremendous corner."

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


Ravens Insider Top Stories