"It's not a speed trap when you know the cop is sitting behind the sign," coach Brian Billick said. "If you're speeding, it's just stupidity. A trap game or not, we'll be ready to play." The game has all the makings of a rout.
The Ravens rank second in the NFL in rushing; the Raiders have the second-worst run defense. The Ravens rank fourth in pass defense; the Raiders have the 25th-ranked air attack.
Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have outscored opponents, 75-19; the Raiders have been outscored, 49-15, over that same span. "That's just on paper," Ravens running back Jamal Lewis said. The Ravens, though, realize there is no certainty on the road. They have lost their last three on the road, with 43 of the 86 points scored against them coming off turnovers. "If you overlook a team in the NFL, you're dead. You're absolutely dead," Billick said. "The players won't, the coaches won't. I'll make sure of that."
Under Billick, focus has been one of Baltimore's strong suits. In his fifth season, the Ravens are 12-5 in December and are looking for their third trip to the playoffs. "I think we're mature enough to go to Oakland and take care of business," linebacker Ray Lewis said.
SERIES HISTORY: Fourth meeting. The Ravens have won all three meetings including a 16-3 at Oakland in the 2000 AFC Championship game. Tight end Shannon Sharpe broke a scoreless game with an NFL postseason-record 96-yard catch four minutes into the second quarter. On Oakland's next play, defensive tackle Tony Siragusa knocked out Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon and then cornerback Duane Starks intercepted Bobby Hoying which eventually led to a 10-0 halftime lead. The Ravens' defense forced five turnovers and limited Oakland to 191 yards of total offense.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has been charged with felony aggravated assault in connection with a fight after a March basketball game in Phoenix, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Suggs, 21, is accused of assaulting a man with a reinforced rod and attacking another man in the parking lot of Phoenix Municipal Stadium after a three-on-three basketball tournament. Suggs took a flight to Phoenix on Monday morning but is expected to be back in time for today's practice, team officials confirmed. Authorities were considering issuing a warrant for Suggs' arrest before the rookie decided to go to Arizona.
"He went to Arizona to meet with authorities," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public and community relations. "He's handling the situation, and we expect him back."
Suggs, who will make his first NFL start Sunday at Oakland, is to appear at a preliminary hearing Jan. 20, two days after the AFC championship game and 12 days before the Super Bowl in Houston.
--Adalius Thomas, a starting outside linebacker and the leading special teams tackler, had surgery Tuesday for a fractured right elbow and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Thomas' arm rolled underneath Ray Lewis when the two pounced on a fumble, one of five turnovers forced in the Ravens' pivotal 31-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"This is a bit of a hit for us," coach Brian Billick said. "But every team in December takes some type of hit, and part of going on is how you react to it and having the next guy step up."
--Although the Raiders have the 31st-ranked run defense, the Ravens respect their secondary. "This team has excellent corners (Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon), maybe the best one-two corner combination we have seen to date," Billick said. "I'm sure they are going to have a lot of confidence in matching up one-on-one on the outside and again we'll see eight guys in the box. We're going to have to do some things to make them pay a price for that."
--The biggest mismatch of the game is the league's leading rusher, Jamal Lewis, against Oakland's 31st-ranked run defense.
"It's the ultimate challenge," Raiders coach Bill Callahan said.
--The Ravens have been flagged only six times in the past two games, their lowest back-to-back total of the season. Before that, the Ravens had reached double-digit penalties in the three previous games. When the Ravens are penalized less than their opponents, they are 3-0 this season. "Its just discipline," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "We are playing a lot better and with more confidence. That's the biggest thing."
--Club officials have begun preliminary talks about restructuring the contract of center Mike Flynn and might next target nose tackle Kelly Gregg for a new deal. At season's end, Flynn is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, and Gregg is going to be a restricted free agent. "We have some cap room, so we have approached a couple of guys to restructure," coach Brian Billick said.
--The most high-profile player of the Ravens' free-agent class will be cornerback Chris McAlister. Over the past seven weeks, he has mounted a serious campaign for his first Pro Bowl invitation by shutting down some of the NFL's top receivers. After being unable to reach agreement on a new contract last offseason, the Ravens decided to designate McAlister as their franchise player, keeping him off the free-agent market with a one-year, $5.7 million contract. Talks with McAlister on a multi-year deal will resume after the season, although he has no doubt where he'll be playing next season. "I ain't going nowhere," McAlister said. "For the record, McAlister will be a Raven. I'll be a Raven for my entire natural-born life. When I retire, I'm going to work up with Ozzie [Newsome] in the scouting department."
--Jamal Lewis continues to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,622 yards, which is 159 more than Green Bay's Ahman Green, the league's second-leading rusher.
--In the 38 games that running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Ray Lewis (no relation) have played together over the last four years, the Ravens are 26-12.
--The Ravens are 26-12 in games played in November and December, the league's fourth-best winning percentage in those months.
--When leading at halftime, the Ravens are 7-0. When they trail by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, they are 0-3.
--The Ravens have scored 119 points in their last three games, which is a franchise record.
--When the Ravens force multiple turnovers, they are 8-1.
--In five seasons under Billick, the Ravens have a 23-5 record when they produce a 100-yard rusher.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- Ravens' turnovers in last three road games, all of which were losses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This not a time for any team to take a bow. Focus and preparation have to be at a high level. There's no excuse for not playing with passion at this time of the season." Brian Billick, coach of the AFC North-leading Ravens, on his team's mentality with three weeks left in the regular season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The NFL's fourth-ranked defense got a little weaker with the loss of outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who had elbow surgery Tuesday. That means the Ravens will start rookie Terrell Suggs, who has never started a game at linebacker. Suggs worked as a starting linebacker all during the offseason camp but was removed in training camp when he was slow to adapt to the new position. In pass defense, he seemed indecisive and very mechanical in backpedaling. "It's time for the young man to step up," coach Brian Billick said. "He's playing well. Now he's going to have an opportunity to play well more."
Thomas built a reputation for being a flashy player, knocking down eight passes and recording four sacks this season. On special teams, he was playing at a Pro Bowl level, coming up with 23 tackles, a forced fumble and a blocked punt. Like Thomas, Suggs has shown a flair for making the big play. Used primarily as a rush end in passing situations, he leads the Ravens with 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. To spell Suggs, run-stopper Cornell Brown will continue to rotate in at linebacker. "We've been working toward this," Billick said. "Obviously, that's the position Terrell was brought in here to play. Cornell was playing very well and gives us a certain set of abilities within the confines of the defense. Terrell's abilities certainly match more of AD's."
--LB Adalius Thomas (elbow) has been placed on injured reserve.
--LB Ray Lewis (shoulder) is questionable but practiced. It's a bruise on his right shoulder, which is not the one that required season-ending surgery last year.
--QB Kyle Boller (leg) is questionable and will the No. 3 quarterback. He practiced for the first time since tearing his left quadriceps muscle a month ago.
--RS Lamont Brightful (knee) is questionable but practiced.
--LB Cornell Brown (knee) is questionable but practiced.
--OT Orlando Brown (chest) is questionable but practiced.
--RB Jamal Lewis is questionable but practiced.
--FB Alan Ricard (ankle) is questionable but practiced.
GAME PLAN: With their turnover problems on the road, the Ravens won't test the Oakland secondary. They will push to expose a marginal run defense, which has a former Ravens training camp player, Tim Johnson, starting at middle linebacker. Look for the Ravens to get tight end Todd Heap more involved with medium-range passes to keep the Raiders honest.
Defensively, the Ravens want to pressure quarterback Rick Mirer, who is nursing an ankle injury. In passing situations, Baltimore's front of Terrell Suggs, Peter Boulware and Tony Weaver have combined for 22 1/2 sacks this season. The Ravens are seeking to continue a trend of forcing turnovers and creating short fields for their offense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter vs. Raiders receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. These physical cornerbacks are the reason why the Ravens have the fourth-ranked pass defense. The Ravens have held six of their last seven opponents under 186 yards passing. Rice and Brown, two future Hall of Fame players, have combined for 91 catches this season.
--Ravens running back Jamal Lewis vs. Raiders run defense. Lewis, the league's leading rusher, is averaging 124.7 yards per game. Ranked second to last in run defense, the Raiders are giving up 149.2 yards per game.
--Ravens kickoff specialist Lamont Brightful vs. Raiders kickoff team. Brightful has had a return of at least 40 yards in three of the past four weeks. Oakland is surrendering 25.6 yards per kickoff, which is worst in the league.
INJURY IMPACT: Quarterback Kyle Boller (leg) is scheduled to be the third quarterback. ... Linebacker Adalius Thomas (elbow) is out for the season and will be replaced at linebacker by Terrell Suggs and on special teams by John Jones.