Losing sack race, McCrary still ahead of game; Billick says stats belie defensive end's impact


Michael McCrary hasn't registered a sack in the past three games, but Ravens coach Brian Billick says the Pro Bowl defensive end isn't having a disappointing season.

McCrary has 34 tackles, fourth best on the team, and two sacks. But Billick says his importance to the defense isn't showing up in the statistics. McCrary is no longer free-lancing like he used to.

"He has had to bite the bullet a little bit, but he is playing better defense," Billick said. "He is not giving up that lane to contain, and that's what we want from Michael McCrary. It's better than Michael McCrary, Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis going to the Pro Bowl and we still have the 26th-ranked defense. Mike doesn't have the stats, but what's our defense ranked, No. 5? He has played better for the team."

McCrary, though, still relishes being one of the league's top pass rushers. He knows it could be hard getting a sack Sunday against Buffalo because Bills quarterback Doug Flutie is extremely elusive and left offensive tackle John Fina is no slouch.

Of Flutie, McCrary said: "You try to keep an eye on his waist. He is Barry Sanders at quarterback. You definitely have to have a controlled rush to contain him."

McCrary watched his good friend, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Sinclair, allow Flutie to escape from his grasp three times on Sunday.

"I might have to call him," McCrary said. "He is probably still ticked off from last week. I know he is upset because he missed three sacks. He's having a slow start just like me."

Similar situation

Like the Ravens this season, Buffalo coach Wade Phillips watched his Bills struggle offensively in the first five or six games last year. Phillips says it's not where you start, but where you finish.

He said some of the Ravens' problems might be solved with Tony Banks playing quarterback. Banks will debut as the starter against the Bills.

"In our first five or six games [of 1998], we weren't ranked that high statistically either," said Phillips, in his second season as Bills coach. "We ended up finishing pretty high. It takes time to get that quarterback situation settled and maybe they have with Banks."

Cover story

Buffalo's cornerbacks have an aggressive style, but they're not in the same class with the Kansas City Chiefs, whose corners pressed at the line of scrimmage almost every play in their victory over the Ravens on Oct. 21.

The Bills will play up tight occasionally, and should give receivers Patrick Johnson, Justin Armour, Jermaine Lewis and Qadry Ismail some room to run. A lot of teams have been playing the Ravens' receivers up tight because they think they are physically superior.

"They press some, but a lot of times they sit at a deep depth like about 18 yards," Johnson said. "They give you a chance to go over the top. But who knows how they will play us? Whenever they come to press, though, that gives us the opportunities to go downfield and that's when we have to make them pay."

Said Billick: "Some teams have hit some deep ones against them. Maybe our receivers can get outside and we can hit a long one or two with Tony's arm strength."

Banks on Rams

Banks has noticed a lot of changes with the St. Louis Rams, the only unbeaten team in the NFL.

Banks spent three seasons in St. Louis, but he never had the weapons the Rams have now, including new running back Marshall Faulk and rookie receiver Torry Holt.

St. Louis has the No. 2 offense in the league with the No. 2 rushing game and No. 6 passing game, averaging 387.7 yards a game.

"Basically, I had [receiver Isaac] Bruce healthy for about one year," Banks said. "They got Faulk now, Bruce and Holt. Basically, all I had was Ricky Proehl. But that's all behind me now. I've moved on."

Price learns on the job

The Ravens had a chance to draft Peerless Price in April but opted to trade their second-round selection to Atlanta for the Falcons' first-round pick in 2000.

Price, 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds, was the Bills' second-round pick and the 53rd player chosen overall. He started last Sunday for the injured Eric Moulds, and after a slow start, finished with five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.

"Peerless is going to be a good receiver for us," Phillips said. "He started out a little shaky [Sunday]. One bounced off his chest and they got an interception that cost us seven points. Sometimes with a young player, you just have to play him. In the second half, he got over 100 yards.

"He makes big plays. It hurts you sometimes to play young players, but in the long run, it may end up helping us toward the end of the year."

Folau says he'll sit out

Reserve right offensive tackle Spencer Folau didn't practice for the second straight day yesterday. The Ravens listed him as doubtful, but Folau said yesterday he won't play against the Bills.

"I'll continue running and doing the drills," Folau said. "I'm just taking it day by day. Staying out of practice and the game Sunday will help it and hopefully I'll be ready for next Sunday."

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