Ravens pocket more victories with improved pass protection

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' ability to keep quarterback Steve McNair upright is keeping the team on the right path.

McNair, who was not sacked during the team's 26-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, has been sacked just 11 times in eight games, as the Ravens have started 6-2.

By comparison, quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright were sacked a combined 20 times during the same span last season, and the team was 2-6.

"The guys did a great job of protecting," McNair said after the win Sunday. "When you have time to sit back there and pick [your spots], it's fun to play the game."

The reasons for the improved pass protection are as varied as the guys who prevent the pass rushers from getting to McNair.

The offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs are communicating freely and correctly pointing out each other's assignments. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster's decision to simplify the blocking schemes has resulted in faster recognition of defensive alignments.

Right tackle Tony Pashos said another factor has been the cohesion developed among the linemen who have played almost five games with the same lineup.

"The more games and the more reps we put in as a unit, the more you grow and you develop as a group," he said.

Another factor has been McNair, whose running ability has turned potentially damaging losses into positive gains. And, left guard Jason Brown pointed out, McNair has a quick delivery.

"You can have great protection, but you know that you can't block guys forever," Brown said. "Steve has done a great job of making his reads and getting the ball out fast, and as long as we're man-on-man and doing what we have to do up front, we're not going to have any sacks."

Sunday's opponent, the Tennessee Titans, has had little success getting to the quarterback. The Titans rank 28th with 14 sacks.

McNair on Titans

Speaking of the Titans, McNair was asked his thoughts about meeting the franchise that selected him with the third overall pick in the 1995 draft.

No one would blame McNair for having mixed feelings about returning to Nashville. McNair earned all three of his Pro Bowl selections and a co-Most Valuable Player award with Tennessee, but his departure was soured by the Titans' decision to bar him from working out at the team's training facility during a contract dispute.

"I'll be more focused on Tennessee come Wednesday," McNair said Sunday. "I'm just going to enjoy this win. It's going to be very interesting come Sunday."

Injury update

Coach Brian Billick said yesterday that although he didn't expect middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed to miss Sunday's game, Lewis was the bigger concern of the two.

Lewis took a shot to the spine Sunday while trying to block for Reed during a fumble return that was overturned. Both players lay on the turf for several minutes, but returned.

"Ray took a pretty good shot to the back, and it's a matter of that back, [which] spasms up on you a little bit, [taking] a little while for that muscle to calm down," Billick said, adding that both players are "sore, but they seem to be OK."

Language barrier

Billick took a moment during his weekly news conference to comment on the officiating crew that called Sunday's win against the Bengals.

The crew, led by Gerry Austin, mistakenly awarded Cincinnati a first down in the first quarter even though running back Rudi Johnson had gained just 7 yards. In the third quarter, the crew declined Billick's request for a measurement after Ravens running back Mike Anderson's carry on third-and-one from the Bengals' 7-yard line.

That incited Billick to tell one official -- which could be heard on the CBS telecast -- "That's close enough for a [expletive] measurement."

"It got to the point where I don't think either one of us were listening to each other real well because of the nature of my language," Billick said.

Kickoff switch

Kicker Matt Stover's assignment on kickoffs might be coming to an end this week.

Stover, who resumed kicking off after rookie punter Sam Koch pulled his quadriceps in September, said Sunday that Koch is getting close to 100 percent and could return to kicking off against the Titans.


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