Packers-Ravens: Keys to the game

How can the Green Bay Packers go about beating the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football? Correspondent Steve Lawrence lists five keys to the game for the Packers:

The Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens were two teams that started the season with high hopes. But injuries and disappointing performances from key players have left these once-powerful franchises harboring only hopes of finishing the season strong, or, perhaps more importantly, "earning" prime draft position.

ABC, meanwhile, wishes only for an entertaining game,as its "Monday Night Football" series winds down. Here are this week's five keys to the game.

1. Play like you're supposed to win
These Ravens are not the Super Bowl contenders of yesteryear. Baltimore has won four times this year, and it's not exactly a who's-who list of teams. In Week 4, the Ravens beat Brooks Bollinger and the Jets. In Week 6, they beat Trent Dilfer and lowly Cleveland. In Week 11, they beat Tommy Maddox and the Steelers. In Week 13, they beat the Texans, who have the league's worst record.

Brett Favre is a better than any quarterback on those teams, and the Packers' running game is starting to come together. Green Bay's defense is statistically better than the Ravens' unit. The Ravens are the favorites, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers, but the Packers probably have the better personnel — especially with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on injured reserve — and are playing the best football.

2. Boller for dollars
Say one thing for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller: His passer rating is better than Chicago rookie Kyle Orton's. Boller enters Monday's game with a 63.0 rating, with five touchdowns and nine interceptions, in six games. Boller, who missed seven games early in the season, hasn't topped a 60.0 percent accuracy since Week 1, has topped 200 yards only twice, and has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in a game just once. Last week against Denver, Boller was intercepted twice and fumbled away the ball once.

Like Orton's Bears, the key to shutting down Baltimore's anemic offense is to put the ball in the quarterback's hands.

3. Young running backs
The key to the Ravens' offense is the running game, though not necessarily former 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis. Lewis, who is questionable for Monday's game with a hand injury and did not play last week, is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry this season. His backup, Chester Taylor, is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and is easily the more explosive player.

Like Taylor, the Packers' Samkon Gado is trying to win a starting job for 2006. Gado has been on a roll, rushing for a team rookie-record 171 yards during last week's overtime win against Detroit.

For Baltimore, running the ball successfully means the offense won't have to depend on Boller. For Green Bay, running the ball successfully means the offense gains the type of unpredictability that had been its hallmark in recent years.

4. Rushing the passer
Quietly, especially with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila struggling to get to opposing quarterbacks, the Packers have put together one of the league's better pass rushes. Green Bay has sacked the quarterback 30 times, which is tied for 15th in the league. Since stepping back into the lineup, Boller has been sacked 18 times in the last five games. If the trend continues, the Packers' defense could add to its sack total and maybe even force a few ill-advised passes that turn into interceptions. Baltimore, meanwhile, has recorded 31 sacks. Unheralded sixth-year linebacker Adalius Thomas leads the way with six sacks, and dangerous Terrell Suggs — who had 22 1/2 sacks in his first two season — has added five. They'll be challenged, however, by the Packers' capable tackle duo of Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton. The Packers have yielded one sack for every 25.84 pass attempts, which trails only Cincinnati's one sack for every 26.63 pass attempts.

5. Sams I am
With Baltimore's offense struggling to get much of anything accomplished, winning the field-position battle is paramount. B.J. Sams gives the Ravens a huge edge over the Packers' returners. He averages 11.2 yards per punt return and 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He nearly went the distance with a kickoff return last week.

Meanwhile, punter Dave Zastudil averages 43.3 yards per kick, and kicker Matt Stover is one of the best in the business, going 22-for-26 on field goals. If the game comes down to special teams, the Packers are in trouble.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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