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Trench work

Offensive lines have to measure up against defenses

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Posted: Wednesday January 24, 2001 11:44 PM
Updated: Thursday January 25, 2001 3:39 AM

  Sam Adams Sam Adams combines with Tony Siragusa to give Baltimore 670 pounds at defensive tackle. Doug Pensinger/Allsport

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- They don't mind getting down and dirty, so the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens almost relish the idea of deciding the Super Bowl in the trenches.

And most of them insist that's exactly where the outcome of Sunday's NFL title game will be determined.

"We both have the same style of play, blue collar and physically aggressive defenses," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sam Adams, a key contributor to Baltimore's record-setting defense. "That's how we both win and got here. The team that wins the Super Bowl is the team that has the best defense.

"Will the game be decided in the trenches? Of course."

Neither team is at a defensive disadvantage at the line of scrimmage. While the Ravens allowed the fewest points in a 16-game season -- and still are six points below the old mark -- the Giants have been nearly as staunch up front. Tackle Keith Hamilton might have been their best defensive player. Or perhaps it was end Michael Strahan.

Baltimore, of course, has Adams and Tony Siragusa inside, nearly 700 pounds of practically immovable beef. On the outside, the Ravens have sackmasters Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary.

"Burnett and McCrary penetrate a lot, they are very quick," Giants offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "Then you have those two in the middle.

"A big part of the game is fought in the trenches, and their defense obviously has been a stone wall."

Which means New York's revamped offensive line, led by Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone, must act like a wrecking ball.

Stone believes the unit, bolstered by the offseason addition of veterans Lomas Brown at tackle, Glenn Parker at guard and Dusty Zeigler at center, can handle the destructive assignment -- even if right tackle Luke Pettigout is hampered by a left ankle injury sustained in Wednesday's practice.

"You've got your stars at other positions, but the game is always won in the trenches," said Stone, who wore a T-shirt with 'Overworked and Underappreciated' emblazoned on it.

"They've got two athletic guys who are very big and take up so much space and they get into the blocks and you can't get to Ray."

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That would be Ray Lewis, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The middle linebacker knows how to dig ditches as well as anyone, although the idea is for Adams and Siragusa -- and, to a lesser extent, Burnett and McCrary -- to keep the blockers away from Lewis.

Then Lewis is free to make tackles, something nobody does better. Unoffically, Lewis has led the league in tackles three of the past five years.

"The guy in that position has been the quarterback on defense," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "So everything starts with him and centers around him. He's the focal point of your defense, the leader and the guy you look to. He's got to take the coaches' personality out on the field and relay it to the guys in the huddle."

That rugged personality isn't confined to the Ravens in this game, of course. Nor is it limited to the defensive fronts.

Jon Ogden, Baltimore's All-Pro offensive tackle, is big enough (6-foot-8, 340), strong enough and mobile enough to dominate at the line. But so is Hamilton, who, despite being just an NFC alternate for the Pro Bowl, has been as good as any defensive tackle for the last two months.

"The offensive line needs a little bit of positive exposure," Ogden said. "We get too much exposure for things like holding, not enough for helping win games."

Hamilton would prefer to expose the Ravens' blockers.

"What I like is I'm going to have my guy right here, in front of me, and I'm going to have to move him," he said. "And I plan to move him.

"What our defense did during the season was special, and we want to get a win to have them recognizing us as the best defense."

Whichever team wins in the trenches will have a huge edge considering points may be at a premium. Lewis eagerly awaits the opportunity to establish the tempo.

"We have playmakers all over the field," Lewis said with a smile. "They can put everything on our shoulders and we are going to ride."

Related information
Glance: Stopping Shannon Sharpe's From the Newsstand: Jan. 24 edition
SI's Peter King: Most NFL teams have a Super chance
Listen Up!: The latest talk from Tampa
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