Ravens find pressure point

The Baltimore Sun

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has felt heat before. Can he throw the football? Can he produce with his arm rather than just his feet? Can he lead Atlanta to the Super Bowl?

But Vick experienced a different kind of pressure yesterday as the Ravens' defense harassed, hit and hurried Vick and the Falcons offense into their worst outing of the season.

Atlanta compiled a season-low 186 yards of total offense, and the league's top-ranked rushing unit was held to 104 yards, another season worst. Vick completed 11 of 21 passes for 127 yards and was sacked five times.

"They provide a lot of pressure, and they give pressure to the quarterback," Vick said in the aftermath of yesterday's 24-10 loss, the Falcons' third consecutive setback. "I think that's the thing they take pride in, and especially without their leader [linebacker Ray Lewis, who sat out with a bruised back] out there on the field, I think that was their main goal, to put pressure on me and try to make us beat them through the air."

Atlanta had little success in that department. Although the Falcons opened the scoring when Vick connected with wide receiver Michael Jenkins on the 13-yard crossing route with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the first quarter, that was about the only good news.

Tight end Alge Crumpler, the team's leading receiver, was limited to two catches for 16 yards and often found himself shadowed by Ravens free safety Ed Reed.

More important, the Ravens got physical with Vick. Defensive end Trevor Pryce set the pace with two sacks, and linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg and cornerback Samari Rolle each had a sack.

And even when Vick released the ball to avoid the pass rush, he was hit seven times.

"That's what you have to do," said linebacker Bart Scott, who made four tackles. "That one hit that you make early may make one pass go short or something like that. You have to factor that in. The guys that do the best job are the guys that bring pressure or mix things up on them. That's what we're trying to do, stir the pocket up."

Vick rushed six times for 54 yards, but that total continued a trend in which Atlanta lost for the fourth time in five games in which Vick has out-gained running back Warrick Dunn (52 yards on 15 carries).

"That's what we pride ourselves on, stopping the run," Suggs said, noting that the Falcons' previous season low in rushing was 117 yards in a Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. "I'm not sure where we are now, but we've been No. 1 against the run all season. That just goes to show that a powerful defense will outdo a fancy offense all day."

Conventional thinking had the Ravens' defense perhaps slipping a notch as Lewis' absence and the season-ending shoulder injury to backup Mike Smith translated into the first start of the season for linebacker Jarret Johnson and extended playing time for linebacker Dan Cody.

But the absences barely dented the defense, which served as validation to defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

"We had 10 games last year without the best player in football and oh, by the way, no Ed Reed for six or seven games," Ryan said. "So we know all about adjustment, and that's what the NFL is about. [Coach] Brian [Billick] says it all the time: Everybody on our roster at one time or another is going to have to step up and earn his stripes. And that's what's happening."

Just ask the Atlanta Falcons.


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