When the Ravens stare across the line of scrimmage at the Cincinnati Bengals' offense tomorrow, they will see raw potential.
They also will see what could have been.
The Ravens would have drafted big-play wide receiver Peter Warrick if he had slipped past the Bengals at the fourth pick last April.
They discussed trading for disgruntled Bengals running back Corey Dillon before taking Jamal Lewis with the fifth pick.
All of which is to say, the Ravens appreciate the athleticism those three players will bring to PSINet Stadium. That is why tomorrow's AFC Central Division game carries an element of intrigue.
The 0-2 Bengals have explosive, big-play talent on offense, despite the fact they have produced just one touchdown in their first 26 possessions.
The 2-1 Ravens, on the other hand, have shown an uncommon vulnerability to the big play.
Through three games, the Ravens have given up 10 passes of 20-plus yards. That projects to 53 such plays over a 16-game season. For perspective, the Ravens allowed only 38 plays of 20 yards or more a year ago, second best in the NFL.
"That's a big part of what our defensive profile was [a year ago]," coach Brian Billick said yesterday. "We need to get back to that."
Worse, they have given up the deep ball each game. The Pittsburgh Steelers hit a 39-yard pass on the Ravens on opening day when cornerback Chris McAlister cramped up on the field.
The Jaguars' Jimmy Smith caught five passes - including three touchdowns - of more than 25 yards. Last Sunday, the Ravens surrendered 28- and 41-yard pass plays in a 19-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Altogether, the Ravens have surrendered six passes of 30-plus yards this season.
"One of our goals every week is not to allow those kind of plays," said defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "Basically, we've not met that goal in any of the three games passing-wise.
"What we didn't do last year was give up long touchdown passes. We've now given up three."
The Ravens gave up one touchdown pass of 30 or more yards last year. This season, they've given up three of 40 or more.
"The thing about it is, we did a very good job of playing the ball in the air last year and three times now we failed to make that play," Lewis said. "Last year, we made that play. That's the thing we've got to continually get better at."
Two of those plays were Brunell touchdown passes over cornerback Duane Starks, who was in position defending Smith on the goal line, but missed the ball.
"On Duane's two plays, the ball is coming in at 55 yards," Lewis said. "We've got to be able to play it at 55 yards. We can't anticipate it being 50, or 48, or 45. His [Brunell's] deep ball comes in at 55."
The Ravens blew a coverage against Miami in Week 3 and let tight end Jed Weaver loose for a 41-yard pass play. Lewis saw the frustration of one play spill over into the next in that game.
"We've got to go back to fundamentally getting after folks and doing a good job with our eyes and feet and do a good job of tackling," he said. "If we do those things, with our ability we should overcome.
"We have to go back and do the things well we were doing early and make sure we're not overanalyzing things, and don't allow the frustration of the [opposing] offense gaining a first-down play into the next play."
Lewis' message to his players this week couldn't have been a more simple: "Just do your job to the best of your ability. Let the other 10 guys do their job and good things will happen."
NOTES: The Ravens deactivated tight end John Jones, wide-out Brandon Stokley, defensive end Adalius Thomas and offensive tackle Sammy Williams yesterday. Billick also said that quarterback Trent Dilfer will not dress, leaving the team with just Tony Banks and Chris Redman at quarterback. Wide receiver Qadry Ismail practiced again and will play. ... The Bengals' deactivations were running back Michael Basnight, defensive end Vaughn Booker, linebacker Brian Simmons and center Rich Braham. ... In a Cincinnati Enquirer poll, 47 percent of 1,843 respondents listed team president Mike Brown as the person most to blame for the Bengals' 0-2 start; coach Bruce Coslet was next at 30 percent. ... The Bengals have scored just 14 points over their past four games, the least productive four-game stretch in the history of the team.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Ravens by 11 1/2
Tickets: Sold out