Ravens thrive on disrespect

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

This just doesn't work for the Baltimore Ravens. They thrive on perceived disrespect. It is a common theme in sports where teams build themselves up as unworthy and unloved outcasts, even when there is not a shred of evidence to back them up.

Even the estimable Baltimore defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, got into the act.

"Nobody has respected this team until right now," he said this week after the Ravens bludgeoned Chad Pennington and the Dolphins out of the playoffs last Sunday. "That's fine with us. Tough on everybody else, just right for us."

You wonder what the guy has been smoking because everywhere you look, people are, well ... ravin' about the Ravens. They are getting acclaim as a very real Super Bowl threat this year and their defence is being acclaimed as being on a short-list of the NFL's best ever.

That leaves Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher scratching his head as he prepares for a Baltimore assault along the lines of a visit from Attila and his Huns tomorrow.

"Maybe (Ryan) needs to read the paper or watch TV," Fisher said. "I think they've gotten plenty of respect. Obviously, they get plenty of respect from us. If that's the way you want to motivate, so be it. I think people aren't going to go out after kickoff and play hard because they felt like they were disrespected. You play hard to try to win the game."

The Ravens are not a one-year wonder on defence, but a dynasty that stretches back to the Super Bowl win in 2001 when they plowed through the playoffs, dragging Trent Dilfer and their lame offence behind them. The fact they haven't been back since is an indictment of the team's inability to cultivate a quarterback of any substance.

On the defensive side, the team is bristling with perennial Pro Bowl candidates. Safety Ed Reed who, after seven seasons, is more than halfway to 16-season Hall of Famer Paul Krause's NFL record of 81 interceptions already is being fitted for a bust in Canton. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis probably will beat him there.

Reed and Lewis are surrounded by a pack of ravenous dogs who get off the bus with their motors running.

Not that any of this is going to overly impress the Titans. They went right into Baltimore on Oct. 5 and beat the Ravens and their defence on a fourth-quarter drive for a 13-10 decision. Tennessee finished 13-3 and has established itself as a well-balanced team on both sides of the ball.

It promises to be a test of wills because the Ravens and Titans have similar personalities. That includes strong running games and high-tempo, swarming defence. Whichever team is able to establish an effective ground attack and control the time of possession probably will win.

Baltimore's detractors point to QB Joe Flacco's inexperience, but he has been a reasonable caretaker of the football, with 13 TDs against five picks since Week 7. He may technically be a rookie, but he has matured considerably.

The Ravens have another not-so-secret weapon. The defence, not satisfied with stopping touchdowns, also scores them. It has produced points in nine of 17 games this year: Seven TDs and two safeties. And whenever the defence scores, they are 9-0.

Not in the Cards

The Arizona Cardinals dusted off Edgerrin James against the Atlanta Falcons last week and he responded with a 73-yard rushing game, something rare for the Cards. They will need another one of those, and a lot more, to stay with the Panthers this week.

Arizona was No. 32 in the NFL in running the football, so it's more than likely Kurt Warner will have to do it through the air, as usual. But he may be without receiver Anquan Boldin, who is tough, strong and fast but is doubtful with a pulled hamstring.

More to the point, Arizona just hasn't been effective on the road this year, especially coming east.

In games played in the eastern time zone this year, the Cards went 0-5 and were outscored 202-102. That's an average score of 40-20. Their three road wins came against San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis, teams that finished the season with a combined record of 11-35.

Carolina is rested and that can be both good and bad in the playoffs, but at least it played its regulars throughout the last game of the schedule two weeks ago, so the rust hasn't had much time to settle in.

The Panthers also love their home cooking, going 8-0 in Charlotte this season.


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