Ravens' defense hoping to pick off Cutler

OWINGS MILLS -- Jay Cutler is practically defiant in his belief that he can force the football into the tightest openings.

Described as stubborn to a fault by his legion of critics in Chicago, ultra-confident in his rocket throwing arm and unable to gain any relief from the worst running game in the league, the Chicago Bears' quarterback has thrown more interceptions than anyone else in the NFL this season.  

After the Bears were finally able to get into town after a snowstorm caused travel issues heading into today's game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens welcome their arrival. Especially Cutler.  

With a total of four interceptions in the past two games and nine interceptions over the past five weeks, the Ravens' defense has been transformed from suspect to opportunistic.

  "The thing about Cutler is he'll look at a covered guy and believes he can make the throw," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "You don't want to get caught up in thinking you can bait him because he has a strong enough arm to make it in there.

"You have to respect every play. No matter how well you have a guy covered, the ball may be coming to you."

  Acquired via a blockbuster trade this offseason from the Denver Broncos, Cutler has gone from the Pro Bowl to the 22nd-ranked passer in the NFL.

  Out of his 457 throws, he has thrown an interception 4.8 percent of the time.

  "Anytime you're throwing the amount of picks that I'm throwing, something's not going right," Cutler said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "It's something I've been working on, something we've been talking about. But when you boil it down, I've just got to take care of the ball better."  

Cutler is still dangerous, though.

  He has passed for 3,023 yards and 19 touchdowns to go with his league-high 22 interceptions.

  "You've got to be ready because it could be a touchdown or an interception when he puts it up," said safety Tom Zbikowski, who's expected to start his third game in a row in place of Ed Reed. "You have to be on your game every time he drops back."  

It's just a matter of which Cutler shows up.

  Who knows which guy will break the huddle today in Baltimore?

  "What we're preparing for is Jay Cutler's best," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We saw it in the Pro Bowl last year. We know what he's capable of. He can make every throw. He gets the ball out extremely quickly.

  "He's very smart. He's big and strong. If you give him too many opportunities, he can get out and run the ball for first downs. He's a real competitor. You always play for a quarterback's best, and that's what we expect to get on Sunday."

  Defensively, the Ravens are now ranked eighth overall with an average of 305.9 yards surrendered per game.

  And the pass defense has improved markedly, now up to 11th in the league with 208.2 yards given up per contest.

  In the past five games, the Ravens have allowed 126, 256, 145, 299 and 74 passing yards with Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers responsible for the 299 and 256-yard games.

  A Chicago offense that has become one-dimensional with a running game mustering just 85.8 yards per game is also going to be missing the speed of wide receiver Devin Hester due to a left calf strain.  

So, essentially, it will be Cutler, the gunslinger, against the Ravens' improving secondary.

  "Talent-wise, he's up there with anybody in the league," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said of Cutler. "You can't give him time. You've got to get in his face, but he's a risk-taker. He's such a competitor that he's going to do some things to help his team out any way he thinks he can. A lot of the time that's the wrong decision."

  Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he doesn't expect to do anything especially different against the Bears.

  Simply put, the Ravens need to create pressure to harass Cutler. And they need to shut down the run the way they usually do behind the sixth-ranked rushing defense in the league.  

"We're got to play our style of defense, and that style of defense is pressure when pressure is there and play regular defense when it's not," Mattison said. "Cutler has tremendous talent. He can make every throw that has to be made.  

"Sometimes what happens to guy is they're just unfortunate, where maybe a receiver was supposed to be there. Who knows? I know one thing: We respect him. We respect his arm, and we know that he can throw the football."  

Derided for his body language and facial expressions, Cutler has been under the gun all season after his stormy divorce from the Broncos where he didn't return phone calls from owner Pat Bowlen and coach Josh McDaniels after they entertained trades involving him and quarterback Matt Cassell.

  Now, he's expected to deliver in a town that thought they were getting a quarterback savior after years of mediocrity under center.

  "There was a lot of pressure," Cutler said. "I think there were a lot of expectations in the city. But every NFL team in the country has pressure, everyone wants to win the Super Bowl. It wasn't anything that any other quarterback wasn't faced with."

  What the Ravens (7-6) are faced with is the extreme pressure of a three-game season with no margin for error.

  They have to win every game to maintain their position as the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC. There's only one scenario where they could win all their games and not get a wild card spot and it involves the New England Patriots dropping back to the wild-card spot and out of control of the AFC East.

  "December is when you've got to win," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "For us, around here, it's always been later in the season when we've probably played our best football. That's what we have to do. We have to go out and get this December rolling and then let the playoffs take care of themselves."

  The Ravens can take confidence, though, in the fact that they're undefeated in five games against teams with losing records.  

And five out of their six defeats are against division leaders.  

"You can't overlook your opponent," Johnson said. "You have to treat every week the same. You've got to know that any team can beat you. This isn't college football where a team coming in with a bad record doesn't have any talent. This is the NFL. Those guys get paid. We get paid."  

All of the Ravens remaining games are against teams with losing records, including the Bears (5-8), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7) and the Oakland Raiders (4-9). They have a combined record of 15-24.  

"You have to win the games you're supposed to win," nose guard Kelly Gregg said. "That's how it is in this business. Every game is important. If you're supposed to win, you have to go out there and take advantage of it."  

Baltimore is coming off a 48-3 rout over the Detroit Lions where it piled up a franchise-record 548 yards of total offense with running back Ray Rice gaining a career-high 166 yards on the ground. The Ravens produced a franchise-record five touchdown runs.

  One year removed from an AFC championship game appearance, everything is on the line for the Ravens. Every single week.  

"We can't sit back and say, 'We'll, if we don't get it this week, we can get it next week," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "If we don't get it this week, there is no next week for us."

  NOTES: The Ravens were able to conduct their normal Saturday morning schedule, including a brief walkthrough and meetings. All of the players arrived to work on time. ... The Ravens placed defensive tackle Brandon McKinney on injured reserve with a back injury. The team promoted defensive back Marcus Paschal (6-0, 201 pounds) from the practice squad to the active roster. The former Iowa player was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 18. ... The Bears were able to fly into Baltimore on Saturday night after their Friday night flight was cancelled due to the bad weather in Maryland and a mechanical problem. The stadium is ready and kickoff remains scheduled for 4:15 p.m.


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