Ravens wary of winless Rams

OWINGS MILLS -- The trap door is being raised, and the Baltimore Ravens are determined to not arrogantly tumble into a hole by overlooking the winless St. Louis Rams. All of those danger signs about becoming overconfident against a wounded team bereft of its starting quarterback, star running back, All-Pro left tackle and three wide receivers have placed the Ravens on high-alert status.

No victory is guaranteed for Baltimore (3-2) today at M&T Bank Stadium, especially when factoring in its own injury woes that start with quarterback Steve McNair rendered a game-time decision today with a stiff back and three rookies scheduled to start along the offensive line. Not to mention that horrendous red-zone offense, a secondary increasingly vulnerable to big plays and an inconsistent pass rush.

That's why middle linebacker Ray Lewis was dismissive of the notion that the Ravens can afford to relax against the reeling Rams.

"As crazy as this might sound it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter to us if they were 0-5 or 5-0," Lewis said. "The bottom line is Pittsburgh is 4-1 in our division. We're 3-2, and right now we need a win. So, we're as desperate as they are.

"That's what I keep trying to explain to a lot of people. Everyone has their own drama, everyone has their own dilemmas. I think, desperation-wise, we need this game."

All of this talk about desperation could practically serve as a twist on the dramatic plot lines for "Desperate Housewives."

In the case of these desperate football players, the Rams are battling for survival as they've regressed into a prime candidate for the top overall pick in next spring's NFL draft.

With quarterback Marc Bulger out due to broken ribs along wth Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson (groin), offensive tackle Orlando Pace (knee) and receivers Isaac Bruce (hamstring), Dante Hall (ankle) and Dane Looker (thigh contusion), the Rams still managed to score regularly during last week's 34-31 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Veteran backup Gus Frerotte, who unsuccessfully started for the Denver Broncos against Baltimore in a 2000 playoff game where he went 13 for 28 for 124 yards and was sacked four times, threw three touchdowns and three interceptions last week and has experience directing coach Scott Linehan's no-huddle attack.

"They're going to play pedal to the metal," linebacker Bart Scott said. "They have nothing to lose. They're expecting to lose coming in, so you know they're going to be loose and willing to take chances; 0-5 teams have pride.

"They don't want to go 0-6. So, they're going to come in here and give it everything they've got. It's usually a dangerous team because it's a desperate team."

Perhaps the Rams, who have been outscored 89-27 after halftime and 59-10 on the road this season, will unveil a few gambits of trickery. That's why the Ravens are expecting the unexpected.

"What's the line from that movie, 'What are you going to do, shoot me twice,'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They can do whatever, so what's the downside? So, we're apt to see some unconventional things maybe that we haven't seen to this point that they're just going to pull out to try to change their fortunes."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are clinging to the hope of being 5-2 heading into their bye two weeks from now. That's when they hope to recuperate and take an extended look at their play-calling and personnel.

The Ravens are expecting to get cornerback Samari Rolle back today from an undisclosed illness that forced him out of the past three games.

Defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist) and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) are aiming toward the Ravens' Nov. 5 Monday night game against the Steelers.

"Once we starting getting all our people back, I think it kind of calms you a little bit because we're mixing and matching so many different people," Lewis said. "We're playing so many different young guys at so many different positions.

"Now we're getting Samari back. In another week going into the bye, get Trevor back, so we can get back into the natural flow of what we do. We're getting these guys back at the right time."

During the first half of the season, the conventional wisdom has been that the Ravens needed to pad their win-loss record in order to be in position to contend as the schedule increases in difficulty during the second half with games against the AFC North-leading Steelers, the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers.

The Ravens' three wins this year against the New York Jets, Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers come against opponents with a combined record of 6-9 by a total margin of a dozen points.

Conversely, their losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, two division rivals, have come against teams with a combined mark of 3-6 by a total margin of 21 points. Baltimore keeps leaning on its fourth-ranked defense, but how much longer can that unit hold up?

Ranking 28th in red-zone production with an offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in 13 series and just five all season to rank last in the AFC North in scoring offense, a starting quarterback who ranks 20th in the NFL in rating, 27th in passing yards per attempt (5.87) and has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past seven games, it's obvious where the reigning division champions need to improve.

McNair took accountability for the shortcomings. "Everything starts with the quarterback," McNair said. "Every good thing starts with the quarterback. Every bad thing starts with the quarterback. So, I take that responsibility. "The execution is not there in the red zone and it starts with me. I have to make good decisions. I've got to be precise."

Despite the ongoing offensive struggles, the Ravens can point toward their sterling record in friendly surroundings as they play their only game at home this month. Baltimore is 44-14 since 2000 at home. To keep their undefeated home record this season intact, they'll probably need to stomp on the Rams immediately.

"I'm pretty sure they're going to be looking at this as a turnaround game," running back Willis McGahee said. "We've got to jump on them quickly and take their confidence away."

NOTE: The Ravens cut kicker Rhys Lloyd on Saturday for the second week in a row, also releasing running back Cory Ross, in order to clear room to sign two offensive linemen off the practice squad: tackle Mike Kracalik and guard Ikechuku Ndukwe.

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

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