Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. Will the Baltimore Ravens overwhelm the Buffalo Bills? Heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens (12-3) still have a lot at stake while Buffalo (7-8) is merely playing for a .500 record and a non-losing season. Baltimore can clinch at least a first-round bye with a victory and be assured of hosting a second-round playoff.

They also have a slight chance of becoming the top seed in the AFC provided they win and the San Diego Chargers (13-2) lose to the Arizona Cardinals today. The teams would be tied with the same record, but Baltimore would own the tiebreaker edge because of an Oct. 1 win over San Diego. Although Buffalo has won four of its past six games and managed to shut out the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago before ruining their faint playoff hopes with a narrow loss to the Tennessee Titans last week, the Bills don't have much on the line today other than pride. The Ravens have designs on setting themselves up to win another Super Bowl.
2. How many times will J.P. Losman get sacked? The Bills' scrappy quarterback has already been downed 44 times this season, and Baltimore ranks second in the NFL behind the Chargers with 57 sacks. Despite the Bills' suspect offensive line, Losman has completed a high percentage of his passes and is dangerous when throwing to Lee Evans, who has the blazing speed to run past any member of the Ravens' secondary. Losman will need to get rid of the football quickly and be careful where he tries to go with it because the Ravens excel at creating turnovers.
3. Will Steve McNair have a big game? The Bills thrive on creating pressure with Pro Bowl right end Aaron Schobel, who has a sack in six consecutive games. Buffalo is susceptible to allowing big plays, so Adam Terry will need to hold off Schobel's charge long enough for McNair to locate Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams downfield.
4. Will Jamal Lewis have a field day? Although Lewis has only eclipsed 100 yards twice this season, he's running hard and has to be licking his chops at facing off with the league's 29th-ranked run defense. The Bills absolutely couldn't stop the Titans' Travis Henry last week, and Baltimore has a substantial size advantage over the Bills' smallish defensive front seven.
5. Will Willis McGahee be successful on the ground? McGahee is a true workhorse who can wear down most defenses, but it will be extremely difficult to do that to Baltimore, which held Willie Parker to 29 yards on 13 carries during last week's 31-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. McGahee is battling rib and ankle injuries.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
OFFENSE
Total (17) Rushing (25) Passing (11)
Quarterback
Steve McNair threw three touchdown passes last week despite having a sore throwing hand. He only needs 25 more yards today to hit 30,000 passing yards for his career. He has been the most accurate passer in franchise history.
Running backs
Jamal Lewis has scored touchdowns in seven of the past six games, and Baltimore is 7-0 this season when he scores. Lewis' numbers aren't too impressive (1,063 yards, nine touchdowns), but the Ravens will have a difficult decision on whether to retain him.
Receivers
The Ravens are one of four teams featuring three players with at least 60 receptions. However, Derrick Mason has been grumbling about not being involved more. Rookie Demetrius Williams is the most difficult to cover from this group lately.
Offensive line
They have only allowed one sack in the past five games. With Jonathan Ogden out again, Adam Terry will get another opportunity to prove himself today against Aaron Schobel.
DEFENSE
Total (1) Rushing (2) Passing (6)
Defensive line
Trevor Pryce has done much more than provide an inside pass rush with 12 sacks. He has 71 tackles and two forced fumbles. Nose guard Kelly Gregg ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 95 along with a career-high 3 1/2 sacks. Rookie Haloti Ngata has improved his technique markedly.
Linebackers
Ray Lewis has quietly put together a nice season one year removed from hamstring surgery with 152 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions.
Linebacker Bart Scott needs a half-sack today to reach 10 for the season. Could this be impending free agent commodity Adalius Thomas' final regular season game in Baltimore.
Secondary
Strong safety Dawan Landry deserves all-rookie notice after intercepting five passes and rarely committing a mental bust. Free safety Ed Reed revived his season just in time to make the Pro Bowl. Samari Rolle is playing with confidence again. Chris McAlister has become a shutdown corner again.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Return specialist Cory Ross has failed to create a spark in the wake of B.J. Sams' season-ending injury, averaging just 2.4 yards per punt return. Kicker Matt Stover has converted 24 of 26 field goal attempts. Punter Sam Koch is averaging 43.2 yards per punt.
OFFENSE
Total (30) Rushing (27) Passing (29)
Quarterback
J.P. Losman has made significant strides this year while running for his life. His accuracy, poise, mobility and arm strength bode well for the Bills' future.
Running backs
Willis McGahee is a hard-nosed runner who grinds out the yards inside and doles out punishment. Anthony Thomas is a decent change of pace. Fullback Daimon Shelton is out with a concussion.
Receivers
Lee Evans is a legitimate deep threat, capable of stretching the secondary. Tight end Robert Royal is a solid safety-valve option. Peerless Price is a disappointment, and so is Josh Reed.
Offensive line
The most suspect part of the Bills' offense. Josh Peters is virtually the only talented blocker. Do you recognize the names Mike Gandy, Melvin Fowler (Maryland), who couldn't even start for the Cleveland Browns, Duke Preston and Terrance Pennington? What an obscure collection.
DEFENSE
Total (19) Rushing (29) Passing (7)
Defensive line
A smallish front four is led by right end Aaron Schobel, who ranks third in the NFL with 14 sacks. However, Larry Tripplett, Josh Williams and Chris Kelsay are all under 300 pounds and could get pushed around today.
Linebackers
Takeo Spikes headlines a solid linebacking corps, but has struggled with injuries. London Fletcher leads the team with an astounding 149 tackles, and has scored two touchdowns.
Secondary
The Bills are hard to throw on generally, but can be beaten deep on occasion and have allowed. Rookie safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson are physically gifted, but lack experience and savvy. Cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Nate Clements are respectable cover guys, especially Clements.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Rian Lindell was just signed to a lucrative extension. He deserved it for converting 23 of 25 field goals, including 8 of 10 between 40 and 49 yards and 2 of 2 from beyond 50 yards. Punt returner Roscoe Parrish is dangerous with an 11.7 average and an 82-yard return for a score. Kickoff returner Terrence McGee is averaging 26.6 yards and has an 88-yard return. Punter Brian Moorman is averaging 43.7 yards.
EDGES: Quarterback: Baltimore; Running back: Even; Receivers: Baltimore; Offensive line: Baltimore; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Buffalo
How the Ravens can win
1. Pressure J.P. Losman. The beat-up, but brave Bills quarterback has already been sacked 44 times. Baltimore has 57 sacks, the second-most in the league.
2. Run the football. The Bills have the No. 29 rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 142.9 yards per contest. Plus, Jamal Lewis has scored seven touchdowns in the past six games.
3. Go after rookie safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson. They're a talented tandem, but they should have trouble matching wits with quarterback Steve McNair and tight end Todd Heap.
How the Bills can win
1. Go deep to Lee Evans. The former Wisconsin star is averaging 15.3 yards per reception with seven touchdowns, including an 83-yard strike.
2. Pound the football with Willis McGahee. A strong power runner, McGahee has grittily pounded out six touchdowns and 967 yards to average 3.9 yards per carry behind a bad offensive line.
3. Pressure Steve McNair. Right end Aaron Schobel has 14 sacks, third-most in the NFL, and has more than enough speed and intensity to give Adam Terry problems.
Bills Confidential
Three downs with ...
J.P. Losman
Bills quarterback
1. On his progression: "I just think it's a natural process that most quarterbacks go through, the more that you're in the offense.
Obviously, going through this year I would have liked to have been in the same offense for the third straight year, but that wasn't the case. I feel that as the season went on, obviously, the more comfortable I got with the offense, the better we were as an offense"
2. On having ‘nothing to lose': "You try to play loose and like you have nothing to lose even when things are on the line. You don't want to be tight in those situations. Everyone still has goals we want to achieve that we set with the coaching staff. We still have things to prove. I think everyone still definitely feels that they want to end the season on a good note."
3. On if there's a physical and mental toll from being sacked 44 times this season: "I don't really think so. You kind of just play the game. You can evaluate it when the season is over or when things change and say next year we're not getting sacked as much.
"Maybe I'll have something to compare it to, but as of right now, it's all I know. So, it's not really something I'm really thinking about."
Ravens Confidential
Three downs with ...
Trevor Pryce
Ravens defensive end
1. On his first season in Baltimore: "I was telling Brian Billick that this is the most fun I've had playing football in a long time. When you're winning, that cures a lot of things, but there's also more to being a professional athlete than winning. We all get paid a lot of money and we all are in the spotlight; but there's more to it than that. How do you interact with your teammates, how do you and the coaches get along, just what is the most important thing? I think I've figured that out this season."
2. On the defense forcing so many turnovers: "I want to say it's a product of the system or that the system only works as good as the players in the system. I think you're able to do the things that Rex Ryan can put in if you have the right guys. I think it's an aggressive mentality l.'
I've never been around a team that has been quite this aggressive about it."
3. On the value of generating so much pressure: "It helps, but, again, when the ball is thrown they have to go up and get it. You know what I mean?
"It helps, but more than likely us four, we want to get the guy on the ground before he throws the ball. You know, when he throws the ball then they can do whatever they want."
INSIDE SLANT
Quarterback Steve McNair is only 25 passing yards shy of hitting the 30,000 mark, which would make him the third player in league history to rush for 3,500 yards and pass for 30,000, joining Hall of Fame passers Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young. With 2,834 yards, McNair ranks second in the team's single-season history behind Vinny Testaverde (4,177 in 1996). His 62.8 accuracy is the highest in team history.
TODAY'S KEY MATCHUPS
Ravens CB Chris McAlister vs. Bills WR Lee Evans McAlister is in the midst of his best season in years, and Evans has emerged as one of the game's most distinguished deep threats with his 75 catches for 1,147 yards and 15.3 average.
McAlister has already intercepted five passes Ravens TE Todd Heap vs. Bills S Donte Whitner
Heap is one of the most athletic tight ends in the league, blending size, speed, strength and hands. Whitner is a heavy-hitting rookie whose lack of experience is mitigated by his range and aggression. He's not 100 percent because of a big toe injury suffered this week, but will tough it out.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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