No. 1 defense ready to meet the Colts

Baltimore's unit is being compared to its record-setting team of 2000.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Ray Lewis literally stood in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens' record-setting defense in 2000. Now he's the centerpiece of a unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFL this season.
No team in NFL history allowed fewer points over 16 games than the 2000 Ravens, who also set a league record by permitting only 970 yards rushing. The current defense, however, might be even better.
Lewis, arguably the person best equipped to make that assessment, believes this defense has more versatility. But he won't register his final answer until the 2006 Ravens duplicate the success of the world champions six years ago.
"There are so many different things that we do as a defense right now, and that's why I don't want to compare us to 2000. Because of what we did in 2000, you're only judged if we go win a championship," Lewis said this week. "So, if we win this Super Bowl, then you can put us up there. Right now, we just did what we needed to do to get to where we are."
Done it with style
They've done it with style, too. The Ravens have allowed 201 points, lowest in the league this year and only 36 more than the record-setting defense of 2000. Baltimore finished with a plus-17 turnover differential, a team-record 60 sacks and was the first unit in franchise history to finish as the No. 1 ranked defense in the league.
The current unit has its own personality, but traces its roots to the 2000 defense.
"The heritage we have is there," coach Brian Billick said. "They recognize that."
Rex Ryan was the defensive line coach in 2000 under Marvin Lewis, who put together a 4-3 defense that recorded four shutouts and permitted one touchdown in four postseason games.
"It was probably the most elite 4-3 defense of all time," Ryan said Wednesday.
Working with a more athletic cast of players, Ryan has employed a 3-4 attack that has allowed only 264.1 yards per game, yielded an NFL-low 236 first downs and amassed 28 interceptions.
More creative than 2000
"Now we're kind of set up where up it's a mix of a lot of different things because of the athletes we have," Ryan said. "It's a little bit more creative than what we had in 2000."
So, which is better?
"I think they're both elite, both outstanding," he said.
The current edition is clearly agile. The tackles on the 2000 team -- Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams -- both weighed well over 330 pounds. Kelly Gregg and rookie Haloti Ngata are not as heavy, but quicker to shed a block.
Plus, this defense has fleet-footed linebackers Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas, whom the Ravens are counting on heavily to hinder Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning in Saturday's second-round playoff game.
"They have changed the unit, but I think they know the type of player that they want," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "They've gotten very versatile guys: Adalius Thomas and Scott. Those guys are exceptional players. They can do a lot of things. They can cover, they can blitz, they can take on guards and take on tight ends. They just are very, very complementary parts."
So is safety Ed Reed, who has more than adequately filled the role Rod Woodson held in 2000.
Chris McAlister was a second-year cornerback on the Super Bowl-winning team. Now he's headed to his third Pro Bowl after picking off a career-high six passes and scoring two touchdowns.
"In all honesty, it's a different group of guys than we had in 2000. We had a lot more veterans around then. I was a baby," he said. "Right now, the feeling in the locker room is that as long as we stay together and do what we've been coached up to do, there's no team out there that can beat us."
Names have changed
The alignment and the names have changed over the past six years, but the one constant of both units is the swagger.
The Ravens didn't think there was an offense that could budge them in 2000, and they certainly don't believe Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are going to finesse their way into the end zone Saturday.
"You can be pretty all you want to, but it's going to be a physical ballgame," Lewis said. "
Manning has a pretty good idea what to expect Saturday.
"They're really outstanding in all three phases of defense," Manning said, "so we've got a real big challenge."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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