By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001
1. Make sure the bus carrying the defense gets to the stadium okay. The only remaining debate about the defense is where it ranks among the all-time best. With oversized tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams clogging the middle, pressure coming from the outside and middle linebacker Ray Lewis free to tackle with reckless abandon, the Ravens go into every game with the realistic possibility of a shutout. They have been absolutely dominating against the run, allowing 60.6 yards per game, but have been slightly vulnerable to the pass.
2. Keep the game out of the hands of Trent Dilfer. The Ravens are 10-1 with Dilfer as a starter, but his role is to be more of a mistake-free caretaker than a gambling playmaker. In their three playoff wins, he is 23-for-48 for 437 yards and three touchdowns -- total. With Jamal Lewis carrying the load and Shannon Sharpe making big plays, Dilfer should have plenty of help. Bucs fans are all too familiar with what can happen when Dilfer is asked to win the game.
3. Force critical turnovers. The typical game plan, according to coach Brian Billick, is to score first, maintain an edge in field position, force a turnover and score again, then maintain the two-score advantage. "That's been the most successful M.O.," he said. Why argue with success?
4. Continue getting extra-special play from the special teams. There have been plenty of cheers for the defense and jeers for the offense. Overlooked has been their extraordinary special-teams play. They have dangerous return men in Jermaine Lewis (No. 1 in punt returns) and Corey Harris, Kyle Richardson led the NFL with 35 punts inside the 20 and Matt Stover made an NFL-high 35 field goals. They have the ability to block a kick or two.
5. Don't get down if they get down early. Winning 10 straight, including three playoff games on the road, is a wonderful thing. But it can make a team that is cocky to begin with a bit overconfident. The Ravens have scored first in seven of their past 10 games and trailed at halftime three times all season (losing two). Billick points out, correctly, that they can come back when necessary, but in the face of an early deficit that might be a tough sell.