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Ravens, Chargers expected to engage in defensive battle

Sep 26, 2006 - 9:37 PM San Diego (2-0) at Baltimore (3-0) Sunday 1:00 pm EDT

BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- Ray Lewis and Shawne Merriman get to state their case for the AFC's best defense on Sunday.

Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens will host Merriman and the San Diego Chargers in a battle of unbeaten teams.

Led by Lewis at middle linebacker, the Ravens have allowed a total of 20 points and recorded 16 sacks in their first three games.

With Merriman creating havoc from his outside linebacker spot, the Chargers have yielded just seven points and registered nine sacks in two games.

While Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl MVP, is clearly the leader of his defense, Baltimore has plenty of standouts.

Outside linebacker Bart Scott has five of Baltimore's 16 sacks. A fifth-year player from Southern Illinois, Scott proved his worth last year when he filled in at middle linebacker while Lewis was sidelined for 10 games with a torn hamstring.

Adalius Thomas, the other starting outside linebacker, has three sacks. Ends Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce can also get to the quarterback and tackles Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata clog up the middle. Pryce and Gregg combined for three sacks in last week's 15-14 win at Cleveland.

And then there's the secondary with safety Ed Reed, the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and the superb cornerback tandem of Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle.

The Chargers were the NFL's best team against the run last season with Pro Bowler Jamal Williams at nose tackle and Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky at the end positions.

Merriman took the league by storm last season with a team-leading 10 sacks and was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Then he opened this season with three sacks in a 27-0 win over Oakland.

The Chargers' secondary is not comparable to Baltimore, but cornerback Quentin Jammer is starting to play like a first-round pick for San Diego.

Both defenses will make it difficult for running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Lewis. Tomlinson has rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns in San Diego's first two games while Lewis has rushed for 234 yards and one score in three games for Baltimore.

The Ravens have a clear edge in experience at the quarterback position with Steve McNair, who was acquired from Tennessee last June.

McNair passed for 264 yards and a touchdown in the win at Cleveland. Derrick Mason caught seven passes for 132 yards, Mark Clayton had eight receptions for 74 yards and tight end Todd Heap caught five passes for 36 yards and a score.

Philip Rivers is in his first season as a starter after the Chargers let Drew Brees sign with New Orleans. In two games, Rivers has completed 33-of-46 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

San Diego acquired Billy Volek from Tennessee on September 18 to serve as a backup to Rivers. The only other quarterback on the roster is rookie Charlie Whitehurst.

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