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Meet the Ravens

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001


WHAT THEY DO WELL: Search and destroy. Not since the famous Bears defense of 1985 has a team been so disruptive to offenses. The Ravens are technically sound, which means they avoid big mistakes, and they are stocked with impact players, which means they make big plays. Baltimore gave up an average of 10.3 points a game, a record for a 16-week schedule and the best since the '76 Steelers. The key is a strong front four that ties up offensive lines and allows the linebackers to roam free. The Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in more than two years.

WHAT THEY DON'T DO WELL: Score points. Offensively, the Ravens are clearly in the bottom half of the league. Rookie running back Jamal Lewis provided a stronger running attack, but Baltimore does not have the passing game to complement it. Qadry Ismail is the top wideout, but he does not have particularly good hands. Quarterback Trent Dilfer has played better in recent weeks and is on a 10-game winning streak, but he spends more time avoiding mistakes than making big plays.

BEST PLAYERS: It would not be a stretch to say Baltimore has four future Hall of Famers on the team. Safety Rod Woodson is a sure bet. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, he was on the NFL's 75th Anniversary team. Shannon Sharpe, who won two Super Bowls with Denver, is on pace to become the NFL's all-time leading receiver at tight end next season. Linebacker Ray Lewis still has a long career ahead but is already drawing comparisons to some of the great linebackers in history. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden is considered the best in the game and is coming off his fourth straight Pro Bowl season.

FUNNIEST PLAYER: A loud, obnoxious, crude guy from New Jersey. It could be Andrew Dice Clay, but this comedian is named Tony Siragusa. A plus-sized defensive tackle, Siragusa is an effective run-stopper but also a valuable leader in the locker room. Willing to toss out one-liners on any subject, get ready to hear a lot from Siragusa in the next two weeks.

UNSUNG HERO: Not as well-known as his teammates on the defensive line, Rob Burnett may have been Baltimore's second-best defensive player behind Ray Lewis in 2000. He led the team with 10.5 sacks and was second among defensive linemen in tackles.

MOST QUOTABLE: A reporter asked Brian Billick last week whether Sharpe was everything he had hoped for. Billick answered by asking reporters whether Sharpe was everything the media had hoped for. The decision was unanimous: YES! Sharpe is funny, sharp and always available.

MOST LIKELY TO CREATE A SCENE: Billick may not be as off-the-wall as Mike Ditka, Jerry Glanville or Buddy Ryan, but nonetheless he is far more forthcoming than most coaches. He does not hide behind cliches like most coaches and is not afraid to speak his mind. The chances of him saying something controversial the next two weeks are pretty good.

LUCKIEST TO BE GOING: Three months ago, Dilfer's career was comatose. Turned loose by the Bucs, he signed a bargain contract with the Ravens and spent the first half of the season on the bench. When Baltimore went into an October offensive funk, Dilfer got a chance and, after losing his first start, has won 10 straight. He returns to Tampa as a hot commodity, playing in the Super Bowl and heading into free agency.

POSITION TEAM IS KNOWN FOR: The Ravens do not really have a history. The franchise has been in Baltimore for five seasons after being moved from Cleveland. Now the Browns, that is a different story. Through the 1950, '60s and '70s, the Browns featured some of the game's greatest running backs. Begin with Marion Motley and Bobby Mitchell, move on to Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly and you have four Hall of Famers in the backfield in a span of 30 years.

BEST GAME IN HISTORY: After winning four league titles in the old All America Football Conference, the Browns became part of the NFL in 1950 and had a smashing debut. Cleveland won the NFL Championship with a 30-28 victory against the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Eve.

WORST GAME IN HISTORY: Take your pick of heartaches against Denver in the AFC Championship in 1986-87: The Fumble or the The Drive. We'll go with The Fumble. The Browns were down 21-3 at halftime but had charged back to trail the Broncos 38-31 with under a minute remaining. The Browns drove the length of the field and were at the Denver 8. Earnest Byner went up the middle on a draw play and reached the 2 before fumbling.

BEST DRAFT PICK: The draft of 1957 was a remarkable one for the NFL. Paul Hornung, Len Dawson, John Brodie and Jim Parker all joined the league. But the best pick of all was Jim Brown. Selected in the first round, Brown went on to become arguably the greatest runner in history.

WORST DRAFT PICK: Consider this a cumulative answer. In the '79 draft, the Browns chose WR Willis Adams, CB Lawrence Johnson, T Sam Claphan and DE James Ramey in the first 70 picks. Still on the board after the first 70 picks were RB William Andrews, QB Joe Montana, WR Roy Green and K Matt Bahr.

BEST AND WORST COACH: Not only did Paul Brown organize the franchise in Cleveland, he also coached it for 17 seasons and was the team's namesake. Brown won four All America Football Conference titles and three NFL crowns between 1946-62. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1967. Let's hear it for Bill Belichick. Not only did he go 37-45 during his five years, he was also an abrasive and unfriendly man. At least Ted Marchibroda was loveable.

REASONS TO ROOT FOR RAVENS: Art Modell. Yes, yes, there are darned few reasons to ever cheer for an owner, but Modell is an exception. In an age of nouveau riche, arrogant owners like Daniel Snyder in the NFL and Mark Cuban in the NBA, Modell is old school. He has run the franchise for 40 years and never has made it to a Super Bowl.

REASON TO ROOT AGAINST RAVENS: Could you really stand to see another ex-Buccaneers quarterback win a Super Bowl? We were happy for Doug Williams, we accepted Steve Young, but it's going to be just a little painful to hear Trent Dilfer telling us he is going to Disney World.

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