SCOUTING REPORT

The salary cap forced the Baltimore Ravens to overhaul their roster this offseason, and as a result many observers expected them to be among the worst teams in the league in 2002. But the Ravens have managed to remain competitive, and they find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the middle of November.

The Ravens' trademark remains their defense, even though they're not nearly as dominating as they were during their Super Bowl season of 2000 or even last year when they made the playoffs.

What Baltimore has done very well this season is creating turnovers. Their 16 interceptions, in fact, lead the AFC.

The leader in that category is rookie safety Ed Reed, the former University of Miami star. You may have seen the highlight from last week when Reed showed off the ball just before reaching the end zone on an interception return, only to be stripped from behind with Cincinnati recovering in the end zone for a touchback.

But that gaffe aside, Reed has been everything the Ravens could have hoped for when they made him the 24th overall pick in the 2002 draft.

The Baltimore pass rush also isn't as ferocious as it once was, although outside linebacker Peter Boulware has five sacks.

Injuries have been a problem lately for the Ravens defense, although it could get a major boost Sunday from the return of All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis.

A decision on his playing status is expected to be made right before game time. Lewis practiced all week and said his injured shoulder didn't feel great on Friday, so the Dolphins might not have to face him.

Star cornerback Chris McAlister also is a question mark because of an ankle injury. He's easily Baltimore's best cover guy.

The Baltimore offense hasn't changed much from years past, with Jamal Lewis leading the way. The third-year running back is among the rushing leaders with 781 yards through nine games.

Former first-round pick Todd Heap has emerged as a star at tight end, and he leads the team in receptions.

Former Dolphins wide receiver Jeff Ogden has been a non-factor for the Ravens this season, having appeared in only two games. But he might be active this week, with starting WR Brandon Stokley out with a foot injury.

Jeff Blake again will start at quarterback in place of injured starter Chris Redman, and as has always been the case Blake is more dangerous because of his scrambling ability and his deep-ball accuracy than he is with his medium-range effectiveness.

The Baltimore special teams aren't quite as dangerous as they have been in the past now that Jermaine Lewis is gone, but Lamont Brightful did return a punt 95 yards for a touchdown in last week's 38-27 victory over Cincinnati.


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