Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. How will Kyle Boller fare in place of Steve McNair? As the Ravens (4-2) take on the Buffalo Bills (1-4) today at Ralph Wilson Stadium, this marks the backup quarterback's third start of the season.

Although Boller has performed viably in his two previous starts with a pair of victories over the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, he made some poor decisions a week ago in a 22-3 win with one interception. Plus, his mobility isn't 100 percent due to a banged-up knee.

This is also an extremely noisy, unfriendly environment. Boller is 15-4 as a starter at home, but isn't nearly as efficient away from Baltimore where he hasn't won a road start since Nov. 14, 2004 in an overtime victory over the New York Jets at The Meadowlands. He has lost his last seven road starts, but at least he's facing off with the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense. The Bills allow 421.4 yards per contest.

2. Will Willis McGahee behave like he has something to prove?

The former Pro Bowl runner has attempted to downplay his emotions all week as he returns to Buffalo, the city he ridiculed for its women, restaurants and lack of glitzy nightlife as well as suggesting that the team should be moved over the U.S. border to Toronto. Now, the people of upstate New York are going to let him know how they feel. It will be interesting to see what sort of rushing rebuttal the league's fourth-ranked runner issues against the league's 25th-ranked run defense.

3.Will the injury bug affect the Ravens?

In addition to not having starting quarterback Steve McNair due to a back injury, it's conceivable that the reigning AFC North champions could also be without middle linebacker Ray Lewis (knee), tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), cornerback Chris McAlister (knee), tight end Daniel Wilcox (foot) and offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and Adam Terry (sprained ankle). At some point, the shorthanded personnel will lead to a loss. Perhaps not this week, though, as Baltimore tries to improve to 5-2 heading into its bye.

4. Can the Ravens confuse Trent Edwards?

The former Stanford star quarterback is an intelligent young man, but he hasn't seen a defense this aggressive or this prone to trickery in his prior two NFL starts. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan couldn't hide a grin Thursday when asked about defending a rookie passer.

5. Is the secondary vulnerable?

With McAlister out, Samari Rolle and Corey Ivy are likely to be targeted with deep threat Lee Evans stretching the field. Edwards is liable to toss a few lobs to test out a defensive backfield bereft of its top cover cornerback. Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed will need to provide consistent help over the top.

Who has the Edge?

Offense

Total (19) Rushing (16) Passing (13)

Quarterback

Kyle Boller, this is your audition even if Brian Billick has said there won't be a quarterback controversy. A rare road victory for this backup could create intrigue, though, if he excels today and starter Steve McNair stumbles when he returns after the bye against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Running back

Willis McGahee is bracing for a rude welcome home, which he anticipated since he bashed the city of Buffalo's women, nightlife, and restaurants and offered a hurtful suggestion that its civic treasure, the Bills, should be moved to Toronto.

Receivers

Derrick Mason is on pace for 130 receptions, leading the league with 18 catches on third down. Since 2003, he has 394 catches to rank behind only Torry Holt and Chad Johnson. With tight end Todd Heap out, the Ravens need especially strong performances from Quinn Sypniewski, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams.

Offensive line

It looks like it will be three rookies starting again, and left tackle Jared Gaither needs to be on his game against Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel. Left guard Jason Brown had a bad case of the yips last week with two crucial penalties. Center Mike Flynn could return today to solidify the line after being out last week with a sprained knee.

Defense

Total (4) Rushing (3) Passing (12)
Defensive line

They excelled a week ago with Dwan Edwards notching his first interception since high school along with interior linemen Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan all registering sacks. Trevor Pryce got the pins removed from his broken wrist this week and is slated to return Nov. 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Linebackers

Ray Lewis is expected to be a game-time decision with a knee injury. Linebacker Bart Scott's pass-rushing prowess has been negated by extra attention and pass-coverage responsibilities. Jarret Johnson has been a force against the run with 44 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Secondary

The Ravens set a franchise-record with five interceptions against beleaguered Rams quarterback Gus Frerotte. Now, they'll have to play without injured Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister. It's a tall order for Corey Ivy and Samari Rolle, but it should be mitigated by the fact that they're facing rookie quarterback Trent Edwards in just his third NFL start.

Special teams

Kicker Matt Stover leads the NFL with 18 field goals. He ranks fifth on the league's all-time scoring list with 1,777 points behind Morten Andersen (2,474), Gary Anderson (2,434), George Blanda (2,002) and John Carney (1,779).

Linebacker Gary Stills leads the Ravens with 10 special-teams tackles. He set a franchise-record last season with 44 special-teams stops. Rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs ranks second in the NFL behind Devin Hester with a 33.4 kickoff average and a 17.2 punt return average.

Offense

Total (31) Rushing (20) Passing (31)

Quarterback

Trent Edwards is a strong-armed, rookie pocket passer with average mobility. He's extremely accurate, but needs to improve his touch on timing patterns. Edwards has captured the imagination of upstate New York and the Bills organization, but this defense has brought plenty of rookies down to earth.

Running back

Marshawn Lynch is a shifty, compact runner, but hasn't made many big plays yet. He has gained 373 rushing yards on 100 carries with three touchdowns. The Bills hardly ever use any other running backs.

Receivers

Lee Evans is an explosive deep threat who burned the Ravens last season. However, he has been relatively dormant this year with a long reception of 22 yards. Return specialist Roscoe Parrish has aided the cause with 20 catches. Josh Reed is an average possession receiver.

Offensive line

Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Derrick Dockery form an impressive tandem. Former Maryland center Melvin Fowler is well-traveled, but appears to have found a home in Buffalo. The right side is vulnerable with guard Brad Butler and tackle Langston Walker.

Defense

Total (32) Rushing (25) Passing (31)

Defensive line

Aaron Schobel, the reigning Pro Bowl right defensive end, is the headliner. Right end Chris Kelsay and nose guard Larry Tripplett are underrated performers who relentlessly chase the football.

Linebackers

The Bills have grown soft across the middle with rugged rookie middle linebacker Paul Posluszny out for the season with a broken forearm. Angelo Crowell is an undersized, active tackler. John DiGiorgio and Keith Ellison are marginal starters.

Secondary

Strong safety Donte Whitner is the hitman of this defensive backfield. He was a player Baltimore targeted last year in the first round, but was unavailable when they drafted defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Special teams

This is a strong unit with kicker Rian Lindell, punter Brian Moorman (45.3 average), punt returner Roscoe Parrish (33.3 average, one touchdown) and kickoff returner Terrence McGee (30.4 average, 103-yard return for a touchdown).

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

Three downs with ...

Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason

1. On emotions Willis McGahee might experience today: "They're high. You want to put on a good performance. In Willis' situation, I don't know, because maybe the way he departed, but I know, watching over his career, he had a lot of really good games in that stadium. It's going to mean something to him because a lot of those guys he played with, wept with, had tough time, good times with, they're his friends also.

"So, it's going to be one of those situations where before the ball gets kicked off, your emotions are going. Once the ball gets kicked off, you forget about it. You're playing against them as opposed to playing for them."

2. On advice for McGahee: "He doesn't need any advice. The thing is, enjoy it. Enjoy whatever the organization, the Buffalo Bills or the city of Buffalo, choose to do for you as far as if they're going to cheer you or whatever. Even if they boo you, enjoy it. But when that coin is tossed and that ball is kicked off, it's all about business.

"I think that's what Steve McNair and Samari Rolle and myself realized. Going back, we really did appreciate what the organization did for us even in that game, even before the game, and the fans cheering. But once the ball was kicked off, we're playing for the Ravens. Let's get a win."

3. On whether the Ravens are more of a threat to go deep with Kyle Boller: "You're not going to pull me into this one. Even with Steve McNair, we have a deep-ball threat. With Kyle, we have a deep-ball threat. It doesn't matter. We threw the ball down the field last week because that's what the defense dictated.

"So however Buffalo chooses to play their defense, we've got to counter with something. So if they choose to back off, then we have to make the best of that. But if they want to press, we have to be able to go down the field and make some plays."

Three downs with ...

Bills wide receiver Lee Evans

1. On Ravens running back Willis McGahee as a teammate, and the trade: "He was great as a teammate, very personable around the locker room, talked to all the guys. When we were out on the field, he played hard. He was certainly a guy that you would want to play for. He was good all the way around. No hard feelings around here about him.

"You figured that if they decided to do something like that, then they obviously want to go in a different direction. Anytime you lose somebody who had done so much for your team and was so much a part of your success, it made it tough. That's the nature of the business."

2. On if Trent Edwards gives his team its best chance to win: "It's hard to say. He's a young quarterback. He's very talented. What he's done so far, stepping in, I think he's done a very good job. We'll certainly see.

"He certainly has the tools to be a very good quarterback. He steps out there with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence, so it's important to improve every week."

3. On the difference between Edwards and J.P. Losman: "J.P. has a stronger arm. Just innately, he's a little better at throwing the deep ball. Trent has a very quick release, so he gets the ball out. Some of those timing routes, the ball gets up on you really quick.

"Just two totally different types of quarterback. J.P. is a little bit more mobile, can make things happen out of the pocket. Trent is more of a pocket passer."

How the Ravens can win

1. Harass Trent Edwards. The Ravens have a tradition of rattling rookie quarterbacks, and the promising former Stanford star could be their next victim.

2. Run the football. Willis McGahee figures to be supremely motivated with all the vitriol passed his way from the Buffalo faithful since a March trade to Baltimore. Plus, the Bills have the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense, allowing 133.6 yards on the ground per game.

3. Block Aaron Schobel. Whether it's rookie Jared Gaither or ailing veteran Adam Terry lining up at left tackle today, someone has to protect Kyle Boller's blindside. A Pro Bowl selection last year, Schobel generates pure pass-rushing heat.

How the Bills can win

1. Go after Corey Ivy and Samari Rolle. With Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister out with a knee injury, expect Trent Edwards to loft a few deep balls in their direction as he tries to connect with speedster Lee Evans.

2. Abandon the run. Rookie runner Marshawn Lynch isn't liable to make much noise, just like all the other more accomplished backs who have failed against the Ravens' defense this year. The Bills' best chance is to keep throwing.

3. Make an impact with Donte Whitner. The hard-hitting safety is an intimidating force when receivers go across the middle. With the Ravens' penchant for dinking and dunking with their West Coast offense, their wide receivers are going to have to run into him sooner or later.

INSIDE SLANT

Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed has demonstrated a knack for timely, important interceptions. Of his all-time franchise leading 31 interceptions, 21 have come in the second half. That's the most in the league since 2002. Thirteen of his interceptions have occurred in the fourth quarter. Eleven have come when the offense was in Baltimore territory. Seven have happened within the Ravens' 30-yard line and another four have been picked off in the red zone. Plus, the Ravens are 22-5 when he intercepts a pass and 4-0 when he has two or more interceptions.

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

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