Ravens-Falcons key matchup


Ravens C Jeff Mitchell vs. Falcons LB Jessie Tuggle

Ravens center Jeff Mitchell saw a pretty good imitation of Atlanta Falcons middle linebacker Jessie Tuggle every day in practice last week. His name is Ray Lewis.

Today against the Falcons, Mitchell will plan on seeing Tuggle on many occasions. Although Mitchell will get help from either of his guards, Everett Lindsay or Jeff Blackshear, or fullback Chuck Evans, he knows on most running plays, he will find Tuggle. And the 13-year veteran will be trying to do what he does best -- disrupt and destroy plays.

At 5 feet 11, 230 pounds, Tuggle has spent his entire career with the same team and has been a remarkably durable tackling machine since 1989. He has missed only one game and four starts since the start of that year, and until 1996, he had finished every season with at least 180 tackles.

Tuggle, the heart of Atlanta's 4-3 defense, has been to five Pro Bowls. You can assume he will be quite involved in trying to shut down the Ravens' fast-improving running game.

"He is what that defense is all about," Mitchell said of Tuggle. "He's all over the field. I play against Ray Lewis every day in practice. You always have to know where he is. You've got to run faster and a little bit wider to get to him. It's the same way with Tuggle."

The Falcons like to employ lots of stunts with their defensive front. Whether they are trying to disrupt the Ravens' blocking schemes or playing head-up, basic gap control, Tuggle is a constant. Few middle linebackers read keys and fly to the ball quicker.

"In a 4-3 defense, [Atlanta] can figure to get that middle linebacker places," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's an outside technician, he knows where the play is going, and he studies hard.

"Tuggle is going to be running into that gap [where the play is going]. When you get there [as a blocker], you'd better figure he's going to be there, and you'd better be ready to handle him. You have to beat him to the punch. You are not going to trick him."

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