Ravens prep for blue-chip Redskins secondary

OWINGS MILLS -- Joe Flacco has endured aggressive blitz packages, confusing coverage schemes and the audacity of bold defensive coordinators intent on exploiting a rookie quarterback. What the Baltimore Ravens' precocious young passer hasn't encountered yet is a secondary that possesses the blue-chip talent and depth of the Washington Redskins' seventh-ranked pass defense.

In the wake of gaining a season-high 451 yards of total offense in a 34-3 dismantling of the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens face a far greater challenge Sunday night against the Redskins.

Whether it's starting cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers, hard-hitting safeties LaRon Landry and Chris Horton or backup cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Shawn Springs, the Redskins' top six defensive backs would start for most NFL teams.

"Believe me, we know that they have good players, but we're not going to concentrate on that too much," Flacco said. "We know that we have the guys to match up against them, or at least we feel we do, so we're going to go out there and try to prove that this week."

The Redskins have swift defensive backs that employ press coverage techniques on virtually every snap, crowding the line of scrimmage with eight defenders while relying on their secondary to run step for step with receivers. Basically, it's a dare-you-to-throw mentality fostered by defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

Washington bullies receivers by jamming them at the line, and refuses to back down with softer coverages in its nickel and dime packages.

"They have confidence in their guys, in their ability to cover," Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "They try to put pressure on the quarterback, try to stop the run. And they give their guys outside the opportunity to cover down man for man. Whether it's soft, press or whatever, their guys have been able to do a good job at that."

Only three of the Redskins' dozen opponents have surpassed 200 passing yards. A nd the Redskins are confident that they have corrected the breakdowns from last week's 23-7 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants as quarterback Eli Manning passed for a season-high 305 yards.

For the season, the Redskins are allowing just 192.2 passing yards per contest.

Landry is an intimidating tackler with outstanding range. Hall has revitalized his career with the Redskins since being cut by the Oakland Raiders in the middle of the season. Rogers would have a lot more picks if he had better hands. Springs remains a sound cover man, and Horton has proved to be an alert presence as a rookie surprise.

"Rogers, Springs is the elder statesman there, are very good corners," Mason said. "They have a group of guys at the back end that I don't think anybody else in the NFL has with the talent and the experience. They've got a lot of Pro Bowls and a lot of interceptions between all of them. They're probably the best that we've faced thus far."

Against the Bengals, the Ravens' rarely-witnessed deep passing game emerged against a weak group of defensive backs.

Flacco completed 19 of 29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard strike to wide receiver Mark Clayton as well as a 45-yard completion to Clayton and a 32-yarder to Mason.

For at least one week, a group of possession receivers shed that unwanted label.

It marked a growing trust from Flacco in his receivers besides Mason, the Ravens' leading pass-catcher with 62 receptions for 811 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie running back Ray Rice is the Ravens' second-leading receiver with 31 catches . No wide receiver has more than 30 catches besides Mason.

"He has trust in all his receivers," Mason said. "He knows that if he throws the ball up or throws the ball a little bit to the left or to the right that we're going to find a way to get the ball."

Flacco has thrown 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions over the past seven games as Baltimore has gone 6-1. No quarterback has a higher rating that Flacco ( 99.1) over that span.

Now, the Ravens are tied for 10th in scoring with an average of 23.3 per contest.

"We're growing as an offense, and that's what we've said we wanted to do is to get better and better as each week goes on," Flacco said. "We're doing that. You're starting to see more guys come alive.

"Guys are getting more confidence. We're getting more comfortable as a unit. We've been pretty consistent hitting our intermediate routes and short routes. Eventually, we're going to get to a point where you feel comfortable enough to go down the field. And it's starting to come."

The Redskins, though, are no slouches. And they're looking to prove that last week's meltdown was more of an aberration than a case of being exposed.

And the Ravens believe that last week's aerial show in Cincinnati was more than a passing act.

"They're a team that likes to load the box and put as many people as they can down in there and man everybody up on the outside," Flacco said. "They feel like they can do that, and we feel like we're going to be able to take advantage of that with our receivers. We'll see."

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

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