Brady, Unbeaten Patriots Expect Challenge From Baltimore Defense

Thursday, November 29th 2007, 2:28 pm
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) - The deterioration of the Baltimore Ravens has spread to the defense, a battered unit that has yielded 30 points in two consecutive games for the first time since 1999. Couple that with a sputtering, touchdown-challenged offense, and it's no wonder the Ravens have lost a franchise-record five straight and are a whopping 20-point underdog against Tom Brady and the unbeaten New England Patriots on Monday night.

It's the largest spread against an NFL home team since 1987, when San Francisco was installed a 23-point favorite against Atlanta, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants. The line is more a tribute to the Patriots (11-0) than an indictment of the Ravens (4-7). With Brady leading the way, New England is averaging 40 points and looking quite capable of going 16-0 _ and then some.

``This is as good a team as I've seen in this league in a long, long time,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. ``They're as advertised.''

Baltimore's defense, long recognized as one of the finest, is operating on reputation alone. The Ravens have already yielded more points than last season, rank ninth against the pass and have produced only 17 turnovers compared to 49 in 2006.

Injuries have played a major role in the drop-off. Defensive end Trevor Pryce, the team's sack leader in 2006, is out for the year with a chest injury. Cornerbacks Samari Rolle (epilepsy) and Chris McAlister (knee) haven't played together since Week 2.

``It is problematic when you basically have a new secondary every weekend,'' Billick said.

Corey Ivy has started at cornerback for nine consecutive weeks and Derrick Martin has started twice at the position. Neither is as talented as Rolle or McAlister, who have four Pro Bowl appearances and 19 years of experience between them.

``There's no doubt the corners are both outstanding players, and they haven't been in there consistently for them all year,'' New England coach Bill Belichick noted. ``I'm sure that hasn't helped.''

McAlister hopes to return Monday night, and the Ravens will need him if they are to have a shot at containing Randy Moss, who has 71 catches for 1,095 yards and 16 touchdowns. ``He's one of the most talented receivers I've faced, and at this point in his career he's got a quarterback that is more than capable of getting the ball to him in tight situations,'' McAlister said.

``Don't let them throw the ball over your head. Don't give up the big play,'' McAlister said. Baltimore led the NFL in defense last year, but the unit no longer can rely on standout linebacker Adalius Thomas, who signed with the Patriots as a free agent during the offseason. But the Ravens still have linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, and that's enough to get New England's attention.

``A guy like Ed Reed, or Ray Lewis, or Bart Scott, or Chris McAlister, they're all looking to make interceptions. Not only that, they're trying to return it for a touchdown,'' Brady said.

There hasn't been a defense yet that has stopped New England, but Belichick knows the Ravens have the potential to pull off the feat. ``It's going to be a problem for us to score. It's always a problem against the Ravens,'' he said. ``They play great at home, they have a lot of great players, and they've got some difficult schemes to deal with.''

Reed leads Baltimore with five interceptions and has recovered a fumble, which accounts for more than a third of the Ravens' takeaways.

``He's a ball hawk. He covers so much ground back there. He's really smart. He's really aware,'' Brady said. ``He loves football. He's got all the great qualities of a great defensive player.''

Brady could not emphasize enough how much Belichick respects the play of Reed, whose only shot at postseason play is in the Pro Bowl. ``He wants to adopt Ed Reed,'' Brady said. ``It's going to be Ed Belichick.''