Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. Can the Baltimore Ravens win a pivotal football game against a quality opponent? As the Ravens (4-3) prepare for Monday night's critical AFC North clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Heinz Field, the entire nation will be watching whether the reigning division champions are capable of defeating one of the league's elite teams.

Plus, the Ravens have been struggling in prime-time games recently with losses in their past four high-profile encounters dating back to last season. The stakes are incredibly high with a chance to tie for the division lead on the line.

This is the beginning of the Ravens' arduous road toward trying to earn a postseason berth as they have the NFL's fourth-toughest schedule over the next nine weeks. Every opponent either leads a division or has already defeated the Ravens. Those teams have a combined record of 39-26 for a .600 winning percentage. Baltimore's current record comes against teams with a combined mark of 15-36. In the Brian Billick era, though, the Ravens have won their past five games following a bye.

2. Can the Ravens stop the Steelers' running game?

A year ago, Baltimore absolutely shut down Pro Bowl running back Fast Willie Parker, negating his 4.3 speed by hitting him in the backfield repeatedly as he gained a combined 51 rushing yards on 23 carries. Last season, the Ravens held Pittsburgh to a grand total of 84 rushing yards on 29 attempts for a 2.9 average as Baltimore outscored the Steelers by a combined 58-7 margin. Parker has already gained 726 yards to rank second in the NFL in rushing.

3. Will the secondary be able to hold up against a diverse receiving corps?

The Ravens will sorely need to manufacture a pass rush to rival last season's 14 sacks against Pittsburgh as defensive end Trevor Pryce makes his return from a broken left wrist. If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has all day to throw, he has plenty of viable downfield targets to choose from between Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller.

4. How will Willis McGahee fare against the NFL's top-ranked defense?

McGahee hasn't really been tested this season against a blue-chip defense, and the Steelers qualify as such. They're allowing a league-low 256.9 yards of total offense this season and 77.7 rushing yards per contest. The Steelers have forced a dozen fumbles. This is the kind of game where McGahee, a $40 million former Pro Bowl runner, needs to step forward and prove himself.

5. Is Steve McNair truly healed up?

McNair has proclaimed himself rejuvenated from back and groin injuries and will make his first start under center since an Oct. 7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The Ravens need a vintage McNair performance in order to be competitive in this one. Traditionally, he excels against the Steelers with an 11-4 all-time record against Pittsburgh with 21 touchdowns.

Who has the Edge?


Total (15) Rushing (16) Passing (16)


Steve McNair will need to recapture his youth against an aggressive, mobile Steelers defense operating under some unpredictable schemes crafted by veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. There's little McNair hasn't seen on a football field, but questions remain about his mobility, health and arm strength.

Running back

Willis McGahee has to provide more staying power than he did against the Buffalo Bills where he tired himself out on a long touchdown run and needed IV fluids to recover. Proper rest and work habits are critical for an NFL running back.


Derrick Mason leads the NFL with 56 receptions and the entire league with 20 third-down catches, including 13 for first downs. He needs some help, though, from Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and tight end Todd Heap, all of whom have been slowed by injuries during the first seven games. In particular, the Ravens need Heap to emerge again as a red-zone threat for an offense that desperately need one.

Offensive line

This is the healthiest the Ravens' offensive line has been since the season-opener. Jonathan Ogden, Adam Terry and Mike Flynn are all expected to start. They should be able to provide McNair sufficient time to throw if they're truly recovered from their respective injuries.


Total (2) Rushing (2) Passing (9)

Defensive line

With the return of four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce, the Ravens are hoping to create a pass rush and some openings for blitzing linebackers Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs. With Pryce out for the past five games, the pass rush has been practically nonexistent except for against the winless St. Louis Rams. Nose guard Kelly Gregg and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata have been stout against the run.


Ray Lewis has second-guessed Brian Billick's play-calling. Can he withstand similar scrutiny? Although Lewis has recorded a team-high 92 tackles and is on pace for 210, he has made little impact in games. Scott's impact has been negated at times by needing to be called upon more in pass coverage. In a contract year where team officials continue to negotiate with his agent, Terrell Suggs has been extremely quiet with just two sacks.


Ed Reed leads the team with four interceptions, and his personal chess match with Ben Roethlisberger is of paramount importance. With cornerback Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle likely out, Corey Ivy will need to have a big game as he'll likely be isolated in single coverage against Hines Ward. Derrick Martin will likely be matched opposite Santonio Holmes.

Special teams

Kicker Matt Stover has converted 18 field goals. He ranks only behind Mike Vanderjagt with a .839 percentage. Since 1996, no one has made more field goals than Stover with 318 out of 374 kicks for an 85 percent clip. Special-teams ace Gary Stills leads the team with 11 special-teams tackles.


Total (4) Rushing (1) Passing (21)


One year after a scary motorcycle accident, two concussions and an emergency appendectomy, Ben Roethlisberger has reinvented himself as a scrambler. His decision-making has been sound and his interceptions are down to six after leading the league in that category last season.

Running back

Fast Willie Parker got his nickname for recording a 4.29 in the 40-yard dash. He's not very physical between his tackles, but has home-run capabilities.


This might be the best receiving corps outside of the Arizona Cardinals that the Ravens have faced. Between Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and tight end Heath Miller, the Steelers don't seem to have any weaknesses outside.

Offensive line

They've allowed 16 sacks, but have provided plenty of time to throw for the majority of the first seven contests. Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca are the headliners on a technically-proficient, roll-up-the-sleeves bunch.


Total (1) Rushing (4) Passing (5)

Defensive line

Nose guard Casey Hampton is a load inside at 330 pounds. He can bench press nearly 600 pounds. Aaron Smith is ailing with a knee injury, but is expected to start at defensive end. Brett Keisel occasionally lines up at outside linebacker and drops back into pass coverage.


James Farrior remains one of the top inside linebackers in the game. Clark Haggans seems to miss Joey Porter's presence. Larry Foote is undersized and underrated. James Harrison is a free-agent find that Baltimore let slip away.


Safety Troy Polamalu's tackling intimidates receivers. Ike Taylor has gained a lot of confidence outside. Anthony Smith is a big-time hitter opposite Polamalu. DeShea Townsend can be picked on.

Special teams

Jeff Reed is a reliable kicker, converting 10 of 11 field goals despite the gusty winds that typify conditions at Heinz Field. Lefty punter Daniel Sepulveda is averaging 44.1 yards. The return game is in excellent hands with Allan Rossum already having a 98-yard kickoff return to his credit.

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

How the Ravens can win

1. Contain the pass. Ben Roethlisberger is capable of creating big plays and improvising to throw on the run, and the Ravens could be too undermanned in the seondary to account for Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller.

2. Run the football. Willis McGahee has been underutilized considering he's the NFL's third-ranked rusher with 639 yards. This might be the time to truly tire him out against an aging, although accomplished linebacking corps.

3. Create turnovers. The Ravens are 61-5 since 2000 when they're plus-one in turnover margin, including a 43-0 mark when their turnover ratio is plus-two or higher.

How the Steelers can win

1. Attack the Ravens deep. The Ravens could be susceptible to long passes due to shutdown cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle's anticipated absence. Corey Ivy needs help from safety Ed Reed over the top against Santonio Holmes when he's in single coverage.

2. Run the football. It sounds like the Steelers are determined to not concede the run considering they have the top-ranked rushing attack and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is brimming with confidence. Perhaps Willie Parker can follow in Marshawn Lynch's footsteps.

3. Blitz Steve McNair. Despite him being supposedly recuperated from back and groin injuries, there's always the possibility that his mobility remains limited and that he could have recurring health problems.

Three downs with ... Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis

1. On the importance of the Steelers game: "I think this game sums up, really the National Football League, and I really think it sums up our division. Nothing is a secret about the way these two teams play against each other.

"We know it's going to be physical. They've got the No. 1 defense, we've got the No. 2 defense. It's going to be one of those classic games."

2. On what it means to have Trevor Pryce back: "He's just energy, he's the energy. The thing is when guys do miss time and they do come back, they have a different energy from the guys that have still been going.

"Right now, he's kind of like our Energizer Bunny. He came back flying around and just had everybody else flying around just to see him out there again."

3. On whether this game is a must-win situation: "That's everybody's perspective on the outside, but when you've been in this business as long as I've been in this business, you know that there isn't anything over until the 16th game of the season. And this game won't be more important than the last game that we play them in Baltimore.

"So, the bottom line is we just need to go get a win. It doesn't matter if you lose it or not, the bottom line is we're thinking win. If you think lose, then I think you've got the wrong mentality anyway."

Three downs with ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

1. On his motivational tactics: "It's just a way of identifying things that we need to address as a football team. Some of it is football-related, specifically technically-related, some of it is not. Some of it is just the development of the culture in the building that we desire.

"But it's just a way of presenting things to the guys that they understand that I'm not making anything up. All I do is report the news to the news-makers, and I am going to do that."

2. On his coaching style: "In terms of coaching style, I don't subscribe to any particular style. I think part of being a coach is being what you need to be in certain situations. By that, I mean sometimes guys need a pat on the back, sometimes, they may need a proverbial kick in the butt.

"I just think that that's what coaching is. In terms of a style or culture that I try to portray to our football team, we're a fundamentalist football team, meaning that we focus on how we do what we do, as opposed to what we do. We're not going to try to trick anybody. We're going to try to win by execution."

3. On following in the footsteps of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher: "I'm excited about it. The standards that I set for myself and this team are higher than any of those that will be imposed by anybody else. We don't worry about living up to ghosts of the past.

"We're just trying to win championships like everybody else, and we appreciate the opportunity we have. We intend on doing that, pursuing that, and the chips fall where they fall."


The Pittsburgh Steelers feature the NFL's top-ranked running game, averaging 159.1 yards per contest. However, the last time the Ravens faced off with the league's best rushing attack and held the Atlanta Falcons to 104 net rushing yards last season in a 24-10 victory.

Currently, the Ravens sport the second-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing 71.9 rushing yards per game. Since 2000, the Steelers traditionally have had a strong running game, averaging 138.0 yards per game to rank second in the league behind the Denver Broncos.

In the Ravens' 14 games against Pittsburgh during that span, they have held Pittsburgh to an average of 98.9 yards per contest. In those games, only Jerome Bettis (117 yards in 2004) and Amos Zereoue (104 yards in 2002) have eclipsed the century mark for the Steelers. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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