Lions Hope To Capitalize On Erratic Wright

Take heart, Lions fans. Baltimore understands your pain.

WHAT: DETROIT LIONS 1-2 vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS 1-2
WHERE: FORD FIELD, DETROIT, MI
TIME: 1:00PM EST
LAST MEETING: Baltimore 19- Detroit 10

RECORDS: Ravens Brian Billick 62-44 (5-2 playoffs); Lions Steve Mariucci 69-62 (3-4 playoffs)

INJURY REPORT: BALTIMORE: QB Kyle Boller (foot) and DE Anthony Weaver (toe) are out. FB Alan Ricard (leg) is questionable. TE Todd Heap (ankle/illness) is probable.
DETROIT - QB Jeff Garcia (ankle) and LS Don Muhlbach (knee) are out. FB Cory Schlesinger (fibula) is doubtful. S Vernon Fox (elbow), CB André Goodman (ankle), DE James Hall (groin), LB Alex Lewis (ankle) and CB Keith Smith (shoulder) are questionable. K Jason Hanson (right hamstring) and DE Cory Redding (elbow) are probable.


ALLEN PARK - Take heart, Lions fans. Baltimore understands your pain.

The Ravens thought they'd be among the contenders in the AFC North only to watch their quarterback, Kyle Boller, get injured in the 3rd quarter of the opener against the Colts. Enter Anthony Wright, a seven-year pro (70.5 passer rating, 59-of-92 for 570 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) from South Carolina who is an erratic passer, but has the ability to escape the rush and run with the football. But with Baltimore wanting to run a version of the West Coast offense, precision short passes with runs after the catch are called for and that is what has caused the Ravens offense to struggle.

Sound familiar?

But that's about what you would expect from a player who was an undrafted free agent. Lions quarterback Joey Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft was expected to become the teams franchise quarterback, but heading into his fourth season as the team's starter, Harrington's passer rating (a putrid 57.3) is below Wright's and despite being surrounded by three first round draft picks as his offensive weapons (rookie wide receiver Mike Williams, second-year wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones) Harrington (49-of-92 for 500 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs,53.3% completion rate, 500 yards passing) still is struggling to effectively run coach Steve Mariucci's version of the West Coast offense.

Ravens safety Ed Reed says don't put all the blame on Harrington. "I was always a big fan of Joey Harrington," said Reed. "I love his play. We all struggle, but like I said it is a team sport. Because that is a peak position, and I am sure he is going through some situations that are hard for him, at the same time, it is a process of building and a process of greatness. I am sure he is in that process and trying to become a great leader."

He also says, too much blame is being put on Wright. "This is a team sport and Anthony Wright is well qualified; he has done it before. We even have guys besides Anthony that are qualified; guys that are trained and prepared to step up at that position at any time. That is what happens. If somebody goes down, then somebody has to go in." If Wright struggles, Detroit could see veteran journeyman Kordell Stewart. Detroit has no one to turn to, although this week quarterback Jeff Garcia worked in some drills and could be available next week in an emergency. The Lions have only rookie Dan Orlovsky in reserve with receiver Kevin Johnson the emergency quarterback.

Reed, who has become the new leader of the Ravens defense says he can't quite figure out why the Lions offense has been struggling. "I haven't got through it that much as far as breaking it down. It could be something as easy as communication. You are never telling what is going on with the team. They might not be telling at the time. You just don't know and that is what they are trying to figure out and they will I am sure."

Meanwhile, Ravens coach Brian Billick is equally perplexed about his team's slow start. "Gosh, if I knew that specifically, I could be a billionaire. It has to do with playing good teams, not playing well on the road, making mistakes, beating yourself, carrying the right passion and intensity; all the things you have heard us head coaches talk about," Billick philosophized.

"For us, it was a very disappointing opening. We had an early bye. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. Our mentality is that we started a new season and we are 1-0 and that sounds very 'coach speak,' and I understand that. I understand that the games that we lost will have an ultimate effect on where we end the season, but our mindset is that we are 1-0 to start the season and we are going forward with that mindset, fully cognizant of the mistakes we made the first two games that put us in that situation," said Billick.

Key Matchups:
Lions tight end Marcus Pollard against Ravens safety Ed Reed.
Reed, a pro bowl performer and the leader of the Ravens defense realizes that despite the Lions struggles, they have the potential to be explosive. "They have a very explosive offense, so you have to do the best job you can against them. They are potent from any point in the field because they have the weapons to do so, especially with Kevin Jones, their running back. I played against him also. They have a lot of weapons on offense and they can be potent from many parts of the field. But it is a matter of you doing what you are supposed to do, and playing where you are supposed to be and not letting that (the plays) happen."

Pollard will try to take advantage of one of Reed's few weakness, a lack of closing speed. Reed gets to balls by anticipating and getting a good jump. Pollard will try to sit down behind the Ravens great linebacking trio and hope quarterback Joey Harrington can deliver the football on time. Reed hopes to defuse that by using his signature style; "Get to the football and make the play."

Lions running back Kevin Jones vs. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
In his initial matchup, Jones attempted to run at Lewis and generally gave as well as he got in the preseason matchup a year ago. Reed says the Ravens are wary of what Jones brings to the table, but won't "key" on him. "You just have to play defense; if they run the ball, you read the run and you break up on the run. You react as it happens."

Lions quarterback Joey Harrington vs. Ravens secondary
Harrington wants to throw the ball down the field, but he won't face a tougher secondary than the tricky and experience Ravens unit of Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Will Demps, Rolle and nickle back Deion Sanders. The unit will try to bait Harrington into making poor decisions and try to make a play that turns the game in their favor.

Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright vs. Lions linebacker Teddy Lehman
In obvious passing situation, look for Wright to try to use his wheels to get out of the pocket and run for the first down. That brings Lions linebacker Teddy Lehman, who often plays the middle in passing situations into play. Lehman must be aware that Wright is not the most accurate passer and may feel comfortable running. This puts pressure on Lehman to not only defend crossing routes into his zone, but also spy on Wright.

Ravens tight end Todd Heap vs. Lions linebacker Boss Bailey
Heap is one of the toughest covers as a tight end in the league because he runs precision routes and is crafty at using his body - almost the way a power forward would do in basketball - to post up a defender and is adept at fighting for the football. Heap has soft hands and can make the tough catch in traffic. Bailey will have his hands full because Heap is also an outstanding blocker in space and will try push lighter linebackers around the field. Heap has been banged up and missed part of the Ravens practice this week. He also has a touch of the flu. Bailey must try to beat Heap to the spot and when he catches the football, he cannot miss the tackle.

Ravens running back Jamaal Lewis vs. Lions linebacker Earl Holmes.
There's a reason Big Earl has stayed in the league so long. He has the ability to sniff out the run and is a solid tackler. Holmes will be big in this game, Detroit needs him to get to the point of attack while avoiding center Mike Flynn and make initial contact at the line of scrimmage and hope Detroit's defense pursues the way they did at Tampa Bay.

Billick is concerned after watching the way Detroit's defensive front control the line of scrimmage allowing safety Kenoy Kennedy to have a dominating nine tackle performance. "They are impressive. They are built like a lot of teams are trying to build themselves nowadays - having those two huge presences inside and let the guys on the outside fumble to the ball. They are playing very well. I have seen Dan Wilkinson play for a long time with different teams, whether it was Cincinnati or Washington. He has really reinvented himself so to speak and is playing very, very well. Those are two big forces inside that make it very difficult for you to run the ball.

SPECIAL TEAMS: In a defensive struggle, the kicking game and special teams always becomes an important factor. Kicker Matt Stover came up big for the Ravens in their win over the New York Jets while punter Dave Zastudil is one of the league's best. Jason Hanson is steadily improving after a hanstring injury but his kickoffs remain short. John Jett has been steady but unspectacular. Detroit special teams have been uncharacterisically erratic this season.

OVERALL:
Detroit has a little more offensive capability than Baltimore if Joey Harrington can remain calm in the pocket, allow his receivers to get into their routes, avoid continually checking down and throw the football on time - a lot of ifs. Conversely, the Lions have a little bit less defensive ability than the Ravens posses and must play assignment football, not giving up the big plays that hurt them in Tampa and running to the football. This one figures to be a defensive struggle.

"When we talked to the team today - in a lot of ways like the Tampa game, Tampa is No. 1 on defense in many categories and Baltimore is No. 2 in many categories," said coach Mariucci. "They rely on the ground game with Jamal Lewis; they are very physical; they are very veteran-like; they have a lot of Pro Bowlers on defense. It's going to be a real physical game. What happens at the line of scrimmage is going to be very important and so it will be a similar type of game like the Tampa game."

PICK:
Baltimore 16 - Detroit 10


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