It's absolutely clear what priority emerged from virtually every conversation this week at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex: Don't allow St. Louis Rams receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce to transform tonight's nationally-televised football game into a personal showcase for their considerable speed and skill. Beyond avoiding any potential embarrassment from being scorched by Holt and Bruce, who have a combined 106 catches, 1,670 yards and 10 touchdowns, the Ravens simply have to gain a semblance of control over the so-called "Greatest Show on Turf" to have a legitimate chance to win. This matchup features the St. Louis' top-ranked offense overall and passing game in the league against the Ravens' ninth-ranked pass defense. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter are plotting to derail the aerial artistry of the Rams with physical, bump-and-run techniques. This is a prime opportunity for McAlister to establish himself as Pro Bowl candidate worthy of a long-term contract extension. The Ravens' franchise player can't allow himself to get frustrated if Holt, the leading receiver in the league, gets behind him. McAlister will need to maintain his composure and avoid penalties by using sound coverage techniques. Safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps have to be up to the task of granting assistance over the top. While the corners can't be completely protected, this can't degenerate strictly into a series of one-on-one battles. Not if Baltimore is going to contend, or win this high-profile assignment.
2. Generate pressure on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.
Vaunted Rams' offensive tackles Kyle Turley and Orlando Pace looked extremely vulnerable and ordinary during last week's 30-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Bulger was sacked five times as blitz protection broke down. This looks like a prime opportunity for outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware to cause Bulger to rush his throws. Bulger has an uncanny quick release and has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,086 yards, 12 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 90.3 quarterback rating. Baltimore has demonstrated a penchant of late at forcing quarterbacks to turn the ball over. Yet, Bulger is far superior to Byron Leftwich or Danny Kanell, though. "I'm not sure that there is anybody quicker getting the ball out there," St. Louis coach Mike Martz said. "He's very difficult to sack in that respect. He responds very, very fast."
3. Establish Jamal Lewis.
The NFL rushing leader is licking his chops at a matchup that looks like a mismatch. Lewis didn't gain 100 yards rushing last game for the first time in six weeks. Yet, the Rams allow 4.6 yards a carry and Lewis is averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. Lewis' contribution will be critical toward the Ravens' goal of controlling the football, moving the chains to score points and keeping the Rams' offense off the field.
4. Make an impact on special teams.
Lamont Brightful could have a field day against struggling units that have special teams coach Bobby April's job status in jeopardy. St. Louis has allowed three touchdowns on special teams this season, including a 95-yard return for a score a week against the 49ers. As usual, kicker Matt Stover's accuracy will be needed, especially if the offense keeps faltering in the red zone.
5. Tackle Marshall Faulk.
The Rams' superstar running back is set to return. The Ravens are aware they need to tackle better, and Faulk's elusiveness, if he's up to his normal capabilities, is a definite factor.
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.