5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. Will the Ravens' second-ranked defense sustain their imitation of their vintage Super Bowl form? Yes, and no. This is a revamped, rejuvenated unit, but it lacks the experience that 2000 edition had on the interior defensive line.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis flashed signs of his old dominating game a week, but it remains unclear if that's an aberration of an indicator of how he'll play all year long. He got more than adequate support from linebackers Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas. Plus, safety Ed Reed is back to his ball-hawking ways and cornerback Chris McAlister appears fully engaged in the game unlike a year ago.
There are three players who could transform an extremely good defense into a truly great one that could approach the Ravens' gold standard, and Baltimore needs to get even more out of rush end Terrell Suggs, defensive end Trevor Pryce and rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
The Raiders were devastated by the San Diego Chargers, generating just 129 yards in their first home shutout in 25 years and only the second in their 46-year history. There's little reason to think their prospects will improve significantly against a voracious Baltimore defense.
2. Will quarterback Steve McNair and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel expand the passing game?
The Ravens were fairly conservative a week ago, content to control the football with short to intermediate passes. A greater level of proficiency from McNair could encourage Fassel to open things up, particularly if the Raiders begin forcing the issue with blitzes to try to stop the run and attack McNair, who has lost some mobility.
One reason why the Ravens might want to challenge Oakland deep is it had the fewest interceptions (five) in the NFL last season and has injuries in the secondary.
3. How many sacks will the Ravens finish with and how long before Andrew Walter is under center?
The Raiders allowed nine sacks last week, including three to Shawne Merriman. The Ravens only unveiled a portion of Rex Ryan's blitz packages a week ago, so Oakland quarterback Aaron Brooks could be in store for a painful afternoon. He seemed to panic against San Diego.
4. Is Jamal Lewis primed for a breakthrough?
After observing the Raiders give up 131 yards to LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday night, the Ravens will likely maintain their ball-control attack.
Baltimore has been running to set up the pass and the Raiders will probably have to honor the passing game too much to stack eight men in the box, leaving them vulnerable to the power running game. The Raiders' tackling is shoddy.
5. How long before Randy Moss throws a fit?
The wideout is on the verge of a temper tantrum, and he's likely to let his displeasure be felt in a not-so constructive way if he doesn't get what he wants: the football in his hands, a lot.
Three downs with …
Ravens defensive end
1. On the Raiders' big-play capabilities:
"They're an explosive team. I've never played against a receiver as fast as Randy Moss. We played him as a rookie and you'll never forget that type of thing. Even last year with some of the stuff he did, he's wide open all by himself. They just couldn't get him the ball. So, they are a very dangerous football team."
2. On last week's victory breeding overconfidence:
"You have to remember it's only Week 1. I'm way too old. I've been around way too long. I've had too many Pro Bowls and too many Super Bowls to fall for, ‘Hey, you guys are doing great.' If we had 10 shutouts in a row maybe I would say something, but we played well and it's just one game. We said on the bus back to Baltimore on Sunday night that whoever plays Tampa Bay next is going to catch hell."
3. On replicating a shutout:
"If you let down, you lose. I'm not worried about how we played or if we dominated. That happens once in a blue moon. I've been a part of two shutouts, the last one was eight years ago, and I have two Super Bowl rings to show for it. This is not an everyday thing."
Three downs with …
Raiders running back
1. On recovering from a rough debut:
"When you play as bad as we did offensively, you can't do anything but move forward. I know playing against the Ravens, we can't play the way we did against the Chargers because those guys will come out there and punish you if you do that. San Diego came in here and they had a party in our stadium. What we can't allow is for us to fly to Baltimore as invited guests and then get kicked right out the house the way San Diego came in here and dominated ours."
2. On the Jerry Porter controversy:
"Anything that's going on outside, anything that happens on the sidelines, I'm really not concerned about it. Right now, I'm preparing myself for war and that's what it's going to be. Right now, my focus is on the Baltimore Ravens."
3. On the Raiders' image:
"We need to bring that back. What we showed out there last week was nothing ‘Silver and Black.' There was nothing Raiders out of it. We can talk about how we want to get back to the Raiders tradition, but really talk means absolutely nothing. I just know that if you are going to beat the Ravens you have to match their intensity and you have to be ready to fight a total-round fight."
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Total (19) Rushing (14) Passing (20)
Steve McNair wasn't spectacular in his debut, but he set a benchmark for managing the game unseen in these parts since Trent Dilfer. Now, it's up to him to expand his game to include a few longer passes and short-hop less throws.
Jamal Lewis resembled his old self, demonstrating a burst and power. The Ravens will need him to carry a full workload at some point, and it's unclear whether he's up to it yet as he's still not completely recovered from a nagging hip injury.
The Ravens need to use these guys for more than short passes because Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap are capable of doing more than catch it and get tackled. Expect the Ravens to be less conservative in the future.
They didn't really allow a sack last week as the lone one was Steve McNair's fault. Jonathan Ogden held up fine against Simeon Rice, but right tackle Tony Pashos has his hands full today. He'll need major assistance against Derrick Burgess, the NFL sack champion and one of the few bright spots on last season's 4-12 Oakland team.
Total (2) Rushing (1) Passing (4)
Haloti Ngata no longer needs the oxygen tank, thank you. The rookie defensive tackle's 60-yard interception return represents the high point for this unit a week ago. They were stout against the run and disrupted passing lanes with their hands.
Ray Lewis signaled that he's far from through, and dished out several brutal tackles. Although named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week, he was outplayed at times by Bart Scott. Adalius Thomas wasn't far behind, crumpling tight end Anthony Becht with a "liver" shot.
Ed Reed matched his 2005 interception total grabbing one against the Buccaneers as Chris McAlister returned an interception for a score and Samari Rolle shut out Joey Galloway. It gets tougher this week against Randy Moss. Rookie safety Dawan Landry is proving he belongs.
This was the one area criticized heavily by Ravens coach Brian Billick last week even though kicker Matt Stover converted two field goals to run his streak to 22 in a row and rookie punter Sam Koch averaged 47 yards. The return game was nothing special and the Buccaneers averaged 24.5 yards per kickoff return.
Total (32) Rushing (21) Passing (32)
Aaron Brooks is gifted physically, but he usually commits crucial mistakes. He didn't look like a passer reborn last week with a horrid 58.0 passer rating and 6-of-14 accuracy for 68 yards. He's 38-46 as a starter.
Lamont Jordan is a stocky, quick starter who's coming off a 1,000 yard season where he scored nine touchdowns. He was absolutely shut down a week ago with 20 yards and a fumble on 10 carries.
The receivers are talented, but moody and disgruntled. Especially Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. There's an outside chance that Porter could be activated today. Moss is already beginning to undermine Art Shell with his trademark antics.
It's an absolute sieve. They gave up nine sacks a week ago. Center Jake Grove is probably the best of a bad bunch of blockers. Robert Gallery is out today and Chad Slaughter is the lamb being served up to the Ravens at left tackle.
Total (16) Rushing (31) Passing (4)
This might be the best part of the team since it features fast defensive end Derrick Burgess. He wasn't much of a factor against San Diego and neither was motor-mouth tackle Warren Sapp.
Kirk Morrison is decent against the pass, but he leaves a lot to be desired against the run. Thomas Howard has tons of potential, but he's a raw rookie who's learning on the job. Sam Williams has size, but lacks ideal mobility.
Rookie safety Michael Huff didn't remind anyone of Ronnie Lott last week. Don't let the lofty ranking fool you. It's only because the Raiders couldn't stop the run, so the Chargers barely bothered to throw.
Sebastian Janikowski has one of the strongest legs in the league, but it's questionable whether he'll get to do much since Oakland couldn't move the ball last week. Shane Lechler got plenty of exercise with nine punts for a 46.7 average. The return game isn't remarkable.
EDGES: QUARTERBACK: Ravens; RUNNING BACK: Ravens; RECEIVERS: Ravens; OFFENSIVE LINE: Ravens; DEFENSIVE LINE: Even; LINEBACKERS: Ravens; SECONDARY: Ravens; SPECIAL TEAMS: Ravens.
How the Ravens can win
1. Harass quarterback Aaron Brooks. He looks extremely vulnerable, especially since starting left tackle Robert Gallery is out with a torn calf muscle and nondescript backup Chad Slaughter gets the call. This may get ugly. Keep an eye on No. 55, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. This could be his day.
2. Establish the run. The Raiders looked soft Monday night against Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, allowing him to rumble for 101 of his 131 yards in the first half alone.
3. Open up the playbook. Steady and conservative calls worked last week, but defenses adjust and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel will need to vary the routine with more passes beyond the 15-yard range. The Raiders' secondary can be exploited.
How the Raiders can win
1. Randy Moss represents the Raiders' X-factor. If the Raiders can buy time for beleaguered quarterback Aaron Brooks, an iffy proposition, Moss remains a dangerous threat downfield.
2. Protecting Brooks is absolutely mandatory. It's something the Raiders ignored last week as he was treated like a crash test dummy by the Chargers with seven sacks.
3. Create turnovers. Since quarterback Steve McNair rarely commits a mistake, the Raiders will likely have to punch the football out and cause fumbles to prevent the Ravens from enjoying long, sustained drives that produce points.
With 7,997 total yards, running back Jamal Lewis is four yards shy of eclipsing Jermaine Lewis' franchise record for all-purpose yardage. The Ravens usually succeed at home whenever Lewis is grinding out touchdowns. The Ravens have a 15-3 mark when Lewis scores a touchdown and are 5-0 when he scores multiple times. Baltimore is 26-10 overall at home with Lewis in the starting lineup.
CB Chris McAlister vs. WR Randy Moss
Two of the NFL's most enigmatic personalities are likely to collide today as McAlister usually draws this key assignment. He's one of the few players with the size, strength and speed to match Moss' unique athleticism. Moss hasn't fared well against Baltimore.
OT Tony Pashos vs. DE Derrick Burgess
Burgess is the reigning NFL sack champion with 16 a year ago. Pashos outweighs the 6-foot-2, 260-pound Maryland native by roughly 60 pounds, but will be challenged severely by Burgess' blend of pure speed and deceptive strength.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.
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