By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Giants RB Tiki Barber
The NFL's defensive player of the year has had few bad moments this season. He leads a stifling defense by virtually smothering any ball or ball carrier daring to advance past the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field. Therein lies an intriguing possible showdown with the Giants' all-purpose back. Barber has had a splendid season and set a team record with 2,089 all-purpose yards. He is as elusive running the ball (1,006 yards) as he is catching out of the backfield (719 yards). The Giants love to mix up Barber's role to keep linebackers honest, and they likely will do the same against Baltimore. Lewis seems perfectly suited to stonewall Ron Dayne's power running style but will have to adjust quickly to chasing down Barber in open space.
Strahan didn't make his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, but he certainly had another stellar season. He led the Giants with 9 1/2 sacks. Swayne likely got a good look at Strahan's ability to dominate the line of scrimmage in his impressive performance against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, when he had two solo tackles and a sack. Swayne, however, is no rookie to the Super Bowl scene. This is his fourth title game, and that experience should help neutralize Strahan's dominance.
Face it: The Ravens offense isn't going to blow anyone out of the water, so a matchup between a receiver and a cornerback would appear to lack luster. Not so in this case. Though the Ravens often turn to the tight end for the important play, that room underneath is created by Ismail's downfield threat. Sehorn, one of the premier corners in the game, simply can't allow "The Missile" to abuse him on the outside. Giving the Baltimore offense any breaks, especially down the field, is a prescription for pain.
If it seems as if every time the Ravens needed a big play in the playoffs, they got it from Sharpe, that's because it's true. He did it against the Broncos and against the Titans, then provided the only true offensive highlight of the game against Oakland with a 96-yard touchdown catch. Though listed as a tight end, Sharpe is more a true receiver, and that means Barrow will need to call on his rather speedy linebacking feet. Safety Sam Garnes will provide support, but it'll be Barrow's job to keep Sharpe dull.
In his 16th season, Brown has experienced it all. There is little McCrary can bring that Brown hasn't seen. But McCrary's 61/2 sacks and 103 tackles indicate the eight-year veteran has some skills and smarts as well. As effective as Giants quarterback Kerry Collins was against the Vikings, McCrary's ability to disrupt New York's offensive rhythm will prove critical. The Ravens can stop the run. Can McCrary help them stop the pass?
Redemption? Poetic justice? Whatever the catch phrase, Dilfer's appearance at Raymond James Stadium in the Super Bowl is begging for movie rights. But before proclamations of "I'm going to Disney World!" Dilfer must exorcise some demons. When last he faced the Giants at Raymond James, his fumble on the third play from scrimmage led to a 38-yard recovery for a touchdown by Christian Peter. Then, just before the half, he threw an interception that was returned 8 yards for a touchdown by Andre Weathers. Get the point?