Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. How will the Baltimore Ravens respond after a disappointing finish? The Ravens (1-1) skidded into a 20-13 victory last week over the New York Jets that didn't really feel like one after a fourth-quarter debacle where Baltimore allowed 10 unanswered points and surrendered 176 passing yards in the final stanza to first-time starter Kellen Clemens.

Now, the defending AFC North champions are trying to develop a killer instinct and put teams away, beginning with the Arizona Cardinals (1-1) today at M&T Bank Stadium. If not for dropped touchdown passes, the Ravens could have easily squandered a 17-point lead a week ago. They wouldn't have been as fortunate in all likelihood against top-flight Cardinals receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Hence, concentration, coverage and tackling must improve today.

2. Will the secondary be able to contain the Cardinals' passing game?

The Ravens have dealt effectively with potent tandems like this one before, but cornerback Samari Rolle, who's contending with an illness that kept him out of practice, needs to be much more physical and challenge receivers with a jam at the line of scrimmage. He's giving up way too much cushion. Meanwhile, Chris McAlister has to stop peeking into the backfield. Free safety Ed Reed is going to have to be selective and decisive in executing double-coverage over the top.

3. How will quarterback Steve McNair fare coming off an injury?

Traditionally. McNair, who's coming off a groin pull, excels following an injury. He's getting older, though, and it was disturbing to see him fumble three times and throw an interception in a loss he all but gift-wrapped for the Cincinnati Bengals. He should have plenty of time to set up in the pocket today as the Cardinals only have one sack this year.

4. Will the Ravens continue shutting down star runners?

Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have contained Pro Bowl running backs Rudi Johnson and Thomas Jones, limiting them to 50 yards and 67 yards, respectively. Despite Edgerrin James leading the NFC in rushing, he could be headed for a similar fate.

5. Is this the week that Willis McGahee breaks free? His longest run is 13 yards, but he's been one block away from dashing into the secondary several times over the past two games. The Cardinals' linebackers lack ideal speed.

Who has the Edge?


Total (20) Rushing (15) Passing (22)


Steve McNair makes his return from a groin pull, two weeks removed from a horrendous season debut where he fumbled three times and was intercepted once. Will he have the mobility to elude the pass rush and regain his accuracy on deep to intermediate throws?

Running back

Willis McGahee is establishing himself as a legitimate inside threat, but the team hasn't gotten him loose on the perimeter yet. He says he's itching for a long touchdown run, and it seems like he's close to breaking one. Musa Smith has been solid in relief, apparently supplanting Mike Anderson as the primary backup.


While Derrick Mason is off to a hot start as he's tied for sixth in the league with 15 receptions, the Ravens haven't been able to get Mark Clayton untracked due to lingering injuries and tight end Todd Heap hasn't been as active as usual downfield because of his blocking responsibilities. Defense seem fully aware of Demetrius Williams' capabilities.

Offensive line

With All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden out for the second week in a row, Adam Terry will get the call on the left side and rookie Marshal Yanda will start at right tackle again. Yanda didn't commit any penalties against the Jets after being flagged for three in Cincinnati. Offensive guards Jason Brown, Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs have been doing a good job of creating holes for McGahee inside, but need to get to the second level to wall off linebackers and safeties.


Total (5) Rushing (3) Passing (17)

Defensive line

Losing four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce to a broken wrist is a major blow, but it's softened by Dwan Edwards' presence. Although he has underachieved for years, Edwards is in great shape now and has been making an impact as a reserve this year. Haloti Ngata has steamrolled blockers, but nose guard Kelly Gregg hasn't been as mobile in pursuit as he usually is, a possible after-effect from an injury-plagued preseason.


Ray Lewis leads the team with 25 tackles and will match wits with Edgerrin James today. Bart Scott has been held sackless. Jarret Johnson has ably replaced Adalius Thomas, but Terrell Suggs has had a quiet start to the season. Rookie outside linebacker Antwan Barnes will be called upon as a situational rusher on third downs today.


They definitely have their work cut out for them against a potent receiving tandem comprised of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Samari Rolle is a question mark due to an illness. Chris McAlister can't afford to get caught peeking in the backfield. Ed Reed, Corey Ivy, Dawan Landry and Gerome Sapp all need to tackle more crisply and communicate better.

Special teams

Matt Stover has scored 1,731 career points and has the longest current tenure with one franchise than any other active NFL player. He's been with the Cleveland Browns/Ravens since 1991. Punter Sam Koch has a 46.2 average, pinning three punts inside the 20-yard line, and ranks sixth overall in punting average. Special-teams ace Gary Stills had 160 special-teams tackles since 2002, more than any other player in the league.


Total (13) Rushing (6) Passing (20)


Matt Leinart is a young gunslinger, but he's also a streaky passer in terms of accuracy and decision-making. One week, he looks like Joe Montana and the next he looks like a rich man's Ryan Leaf. Great upside, though.

Running back

Edgerrin James is proving the critics that thought he was washed-up as wrong after a rough first year in the Valley of the Sun. He's leading the NFC in rushing with 220 yards despite a young offensive line.


Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald represent a formidable duo, one that's capable of embarrassing secondaries with their strength, speed and polished routes. Third receiver Bryant Johnson is a deep threat. Tight end Leonard Pope is mostly there for blocking.

Offensive line

The Ravens will try to confuse rookie right tackle Levi Brown and undrafted free agent rookie center Lyle Sendlein. Deuce Lutui is a massive right guard, but he's slow and lacks endurance. Reggie Wells and Mike Gandy form a nondescript left side.


Total (10) Rushing (10) Passing (9)

Defensive line

Darnell Dockett and Bert Berry headline an otherwise ordinary group. Dockett is an intimidating inside presence, and Berry provides upfield speed off the edge. Gabe Watson, Antonio Smith and Alan Branch aren't making many, if any, big plays.


Middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has gotten quicker as he's lost weight and is a big, strong tackler after a few years as a special-teams apprentice. Calvin Pace and Karlos Dansby have had sketchy starts to their respective NFL careers.


It's rough sledding across the middle against imposing safeties Adrian Wilson and Terrence Holt, two hitters who strike receivers that risk traversing their territory. Cornerbacks Rod Hood and Eric Green are underrated, pesky cover guys.

Special teams

Neil Rackers is a quality kicker with a strong leg for deep kicks. Punter Mike Barr is averaging only 38.4 yards. Steve Breaston isn't a very explosive return specialist.

EDGES: Quarterback: Even; Running back: Arizona; Receivers: Arizona; Offensive line: Baltimore; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers; Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Baltimore.


Wide receiver Derrick Mason has recorded the fourth-most catches in the NFL since 2003 with 360 receptions, ranking behind Torry Holt (419), Chad Johnson (385) and Marvin Harrison (367). Yet, Mason caught a higher percentage of attempts thrown his way (360 of 564) for a 63.8 percent clip, ahead of Harrison (63.4), Holt (61.9) and Johnson (58.7). Mason had the fewest number of throws directed his way of any player ranking in the top seven. Mason has 15 catches in two games, putting him on a lofty pace to catch 120 passes for 1,823 yards. His career-highs are 96 catches, 1,303 yards and nine touchdowns.

How the Ravens can win

1. Contain Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. This combustible tandem can exploit secondaries' weaknesses, and the Ravens looked extremely vulnerable in the fourth quarter against the Jets.

2. Establish the run. Willis McGahee appears to be capable of more production, given the football enough. Ball-control would also keep Boldin and Fitzgerald tethered to the bench.

3. Cut down on penalties. The Ravens lead the league with 21 penalties, three ahead of the Raiders and Cowboys, and have ranked in the top 10 in the NFL for three of the past four seasons. Sixteen different players have been flagged this year, including eight on offense, eight on defense and five on special teams.

How the Cardinals can win 1. Go after Samari Rolle. Rolle plays with an extreme cushion to guard against the deep ball, and Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are difficult to corral after the catch because of their size, speed and reckless abandon.

2. Keep the Ravens honest. The Cardinals probably won't abandon the run against Baltimore like most offfenses since they feature Edgerrin James, the NFC's leading rusher.

3. Pressure Steve McNair. McNair is coming off a groin pull and his mobility could be limited. Plus, he fumbled three times and threw one interception against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Three Downs with …

Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason

1. On whether he will ever stop talking about not getting the ball enough: "I don't think I will ever stop complaining. I think the day I stop complaining is the day I retire. I think it's just a receiver's nature, whether it be complaining to the media or complaining behind doors, you're always open. I don't know a receiver that hasn't been open in this league that's a starter.

"I think I've learned how to temper it and, if I have some problems, then I know that I can go to Brian Billick or Rick Neuheisel and discuss those issues. I don't think there's going to be an issue this year because I understand what we have on offense, the potential, and the guys with the explosiveness when they catch the ball. I'm going to go out there and do my job."

2. On the offense's approach: "Stay in attack mode, don't get lax, stay focused, stay right on the path. I think that's what you have to do. We understand that our defense is going to make plays. What we have to do as an offense is that one time they might not make the play, when we get on the field, we've got to be able to stay in attack mode.

"So, for us, it's just staying mentally focused, don't have any penalties or turnovers towards the end of the ball game. We played exceptionally well the first three quarters, but during the second half, really, we got a little lax there. I mean that as a team. But we were able to put it all together when we needed a stop and the defense got it."

3. On the Cardinals' defense: "They're very good on the outside, I think. The defensive front, I think they're good. They rush the passer very well. Their scheme is excellent. They try to confuse you.

"I think they're a little bit underestimated. From what I've seen on film, those guys play tough, fast and physical, and they're always looking in your face. They're going to make you work for everything you get in the passing game."

Three Downs with …

Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart

1. On wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald: "It makes my job a lot easier. I know I can go to either one of those guys, even when they're covered. I know they're going to make a play for me. They're two very different style receivers and that helps. You've got a guy like Larry who can go up and get the ball, probably against anyone, because he's so big and he's got great ball instincts.

"Then you've got a guy like Anquan who runs good routes, who's physical. He can break tackles, get those tough yards, get yards after the catch. We've got a great receiving corps. The thing is, we're all still very young. We're all just growing together."

2. On what he learned from watching the Jets' Kellen Clemens: "I think, obviously, any time you think of Baltimore, you think of their defense and their defense is awesome. They're fast and they bring a lot of pressure. They're tough. They're aggressive. I think Kellen did a good job. He took a pounding that game, but he answered the call.

"They dropped that touchdown pass in the end to tie -- that post route over the middle where they had a chance to tie -- maybe put the game into overtime. It's tough to go into Baltimore and beat them is very hard to do. We've got to go out there and just trust in our preparation and what we're doing throughout the week with our game plan. And hopefully, we can put some points on the board."

3. On changing the losing culture in Arizona: "Obviously, you get into habits. In college, we went out every single Saturday expecting to win, knowing we would win. We just didn't think, no matter what, that any team would beat us. Obviously, college is different than the pros. In the NFL, it's almost impossible to go undefeated. The teams are too good, but you develop a mindset.

"If you win some close games, tough games, you start to gain the respect of your opponents. Around here, people want to win. This team works its butt off to be a team that could be a playoff team, that could have the respect of all the teams. But you have to go out there and do it. That's how you earn the respect. This team, we're not far off."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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