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Best defense

Fewer points or fewer yards? Ravens, Titans can't agree

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Posted: Thursday January 04, 2001 11:29 PM
Updated: Friday January 05, 2001 5:29 PM

  Jamie Sharper, Larry Webster, Rob Burnett, Corey Harris The Baltimore Ravens' defense allowed opponents only 10.3 PPG this season. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The topic seems easy enough: What makes an NFL defense great?

But there's no easy answer when you pose that question to the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans.

Both claim to have the NFL's best defense, units that could be considered among the league's best-ever. But neither the Ravens nor the Titans, who meet Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff, can agree on what qualities make a defense great.

For the Ravens, who set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season with 165, the answer is simple.

"Any team that keeps its opponents from scoring, they're the team that's doing a lot of things right on the football field defensively," Ravens cornerback Rod Woodson said.

"Being one or two, who really cares about that? It's playoff time, and the statistics and all that doesn't matter."

There's the rub. The Titans edged the Ravens on the final week for honors as the NFL's No. 1 defense, something that Baltimore had held much of the season.

But the Ravens allowed 524 yards to the New York Jets in their regular-season finale, while the Titans gave up just 95 yards to Dallas. Tennessee finished with 238.4 yards allowed per game compared to 248 for Baltimore.

Ravens end Rob Burnett said the Titans earned the No. 1 label.

"They can have the fewest yards. We have the fewest points in NFL history," he said, holding up a ball given to every member of the defense commemorating their points record.

Most of the Titans choose to look at effort, how hard the players work on a defense.

"Stats is one, but stuff you can't measure is heart," Titans end Kenny Holmes said. "And we got that, the heart of a champion, knowing when to go out and play as hard (as possible)."

Baltimore spent much of the season being compared to the 1986 Chicago Bears or Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s, and they deserved such accolades as they finished the season with 22 fewer points allowed than the '86 Bears.

The Ravens notched four shutouts and allowed just 18 touchdowns all season. They led the NFL in fewest yards rushing allowed, with 60.6 per game, and in turnover margin, with 23 more takeaways than giveaways.

"We are the best," Ravens tackle Tony Siragusa said. "We have had to prove it week in and week out, and we have to go prove it this week. I guess it's the best against the best. They think they are the best in their eyes, and we think we're the best in our eyes."

Few people noticed the Titans defense until the past month.

They allowed only 191 points, the third-fewest points ever allowed in a 16-game season. But the Ravens ignored them when they put together a graph of that stat for their weekly notes, giving credit instead to the 1978 Steelers.

Tennessee allowed just 20 touchdowns, shut out two opponents and only New Orleans had more sacks.

Against the pass, the Titans were better than the Ravens as they led the NFL with 151.5 yards allowed per game compared to 187.3 by the Ravens (eighth-best in the league).

"They led the NFL in three categories, we led them in seven categories," Titans end Jevon Kearse said. "So maybe those three categories they led in were the most important. I guess we could never know."

About the only thing the Ravens and Titans can agree on is that the regular season stats mean nothing now and that Sunday's winner can be dubbed the best.

"The whole country knows who has the best defense," Ravens end Michael McCrary said. "We believe we are better. We'll get to prove it Sunday."

The Titans beg to differ.

"You got two great defenses battling it out," Holmes said. "The roughest, toughest defense is going to win. It's simple as that."

Related information
Statitudes: NFL's stingiest defenses
'Tongue wrasslin'' not on agenda for Tennessee
SI's Banks: Baltimore revels in Billick's decision
Ravens LB Lewis named NFL's top defensive player
NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis says the Ravens' triumph at Tennessee earlier in the season is an advantage. (122 K)
Derrick Mason of the Titans says the Ravens have a lot of playoff experience on their team. (83 K)
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