Ravens - Lions: Gameday inside slant

Week 5 in the NFL sees the Ravens (1-2) on the road against the Detroit Lions (1-2). We take a quick look at what to look for on each side of the football and what each team needs to do to win.

When the Ravens have the football:

Anticipate a similar game plan to last week's ultra-conservative, vanilla fare. The Ravens managed to produce a 13-3 win over the New York Jets with 45 runs for 115 yards and 15 completions for 144 yards. They committed only one meaningless turnover. During a 13-play, 67-yard drive that lasted 8 minutes and 5 seconds and was capped by Jamal Lewis' diving touchdown run, the Ravens finally struck a balance between the run and the pass. This is how the Ravens need to play and they'll likely attempt to duplicate that game plan to a greater extent today against a Lions defense that allowed only 69 rushing yards on 22 carries last week against Tampa Bay Buccaneers blue-chip rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. He was limited to 13 yards on 11 carries before leaving with an injury. It may be difficult to establish the run, so Baltimore will likely throw the football more often. Besides cornerback Dre' Bly, the Lions' secondary is far from top-notch. 

Key matchup: C Mike Flynn vs. DT Shaun Rogers.
Rogers is a 6-foot-4, 340-pound wall who can overwhelm centers and guards. Flynn has to stay in front of Rogers and cut off his inside penetration. Rogers has two sacks and gets tremendous push at the line of scrimmage. He outweighs Flynn by nearly 40 pounds.

How the Ravens can win:
1. Bait mistake-prone quarterback Joey Harrington into a critical mistake. Although the Ravens have yet to intercept a pass (Where is safety Ed Reed?), Harrington has already thrown five interceptions and figures to put the ball in the air today at home to his bevy of talented receivers. He has only three touchdown passes despite having three former first-round receivers to throw to and talented tight end Marcus Pollard.
2. Pound the football. This is the Ravens' top strategy offensively even though the running game hasn't looked so sharp or productive. Jamal Lewis might or might not be on the verge of a breakout game. There's only one way to find out. Give him the football, but mostly on the perimeter because the middle appears impenetrable.
3. Open up the passing game. Anthony Wright is obviously not an All-Pro passer, but he's a pretty smart quarterback with a strong arm. The Ravens should give him more chances to throw long to Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. They shouldn't be so conservative. Wright can throw deep if given the chance.

When the Lions have the football:

Expect the Lions to give quarterback Joey Harrington some rope today and allow him to throw the ball more downfield to Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Kevin Johnson and Marcus Pollard. Although Harrington isn't the most competent quarterback around and would likely be in danger of losing his job if Jeff Garcia wasn't hurt, he plays much better at home. He opened the season against the Green Bay Packers with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Since the opener in two road losses, Harrington has thrown five interceptions with one touchdown pass. He tossed five picks in a 38-3 loss to the Chicago Bears. The Lions' most dangerous gambit is throwing the football and executing the West Coast Offense. The Ravens are likely to uncork some more blitz packages after sacking Brooks Bollinger five times last week. Why mess with success?

Key matchup: CBs Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle vs. WRs Roy Williams and Mike Williams.
McAlister is a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who's one of the most physically gifted athletes on the defense. Roy Williams has 10 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. He has great size at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, as does Mike Williams at 6-5, 234 pounds. Rolle and McAlister will need sound technique and leaping ability to guard this imposing duo.

How the Lions can win:
1. Smother Jamal Lewis with inside penetration. Massive defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson represent a tough assignment for center Mike Flynn and guards Edwin Mulitalo and Keydrick Vincent. Linebackers Boss Bailey and Earl Holmes can fill gaps quickly, too.
2. Isolate their slot receiver against Deion Sanders. Sanders looks uncomfortable playing against the slot as the Ravens' nickel corner. He prefers playing outside and is still getting the hang of his new role. Mike Williams or Kevin Johnson could get the start in place of suspended bad boy receiver Charles Rogers
3. Establish the run with Kevin Jones. Jones isn't off to a great start with 147 yards and one touchdown, but seems to play much faster on artificial turf. Jones has speed that the Lions aren't utilizing.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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