Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. Will the Baltimore Ravens spoil the New England Patriots' perfect season? Las Vegas oddsmakers obviously think this notion is laughable, installing the Patriots (11-0) as 20-point favorites against the Ravens (4-7). The Ravens are just the seventh team since 1980 to be 20-point underdog.s If the Ravens win, it would mark the biggest NFL upset in 33 years.

The last time a 20-point underdog won was in 1974, when the San Diego Chargers upset the Cincinnati Bengals by three points. Baltimore is mired in a five-game losing streak with last year's AFC North champions falling into last place in the division. The Patriots are averaging 40.2 points per game and have achieved an average margin of victory of 23.3 points.

Plus, Baltimore has allowed 30 points or more in the past two games and fell 38-7 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a recent Monday night game.

2. Can the Ravens contain Tom Brady and Randy Moss?

Hardly anyone has been able to. Brady and Moss have connected for 16 touchdown passes and 1,095 receiving yards, including four scores in a 56-10 win over the Buffalo Bills and three in the season-opener against the New York Jets. Moss has reclaimed his old title as the league's most dangerous receiver, and Brady is riding the crest of a gigantic wave of momentum with a league-high 39 touchdown passes against just four interceptions.

The Ravens really need cornerback Chris McAlister to play to try to slow down the Patriots' powerhouse offense.

Expect defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to employ a lot of nickel packages since New England stays in the shotgun most of the time. Samari Rolle, Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin need to hold up in coverage, and safety Ed Reed needs to have one of the best games of his career for Baltimore to remain competitive.

3. Will the turnover bug continue to bite the Ravens?

There's no reason to think this will be the week Baltimore stops turning the ball over. They rank last in the NFL in turnover margin, and New England is in the top 10 at forcing turnovers.

4. How will Baltimore mount a pass rush?

The Ravens were unable to pressure San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers a week ago, and he had all day to throw three touchdown passes with no interceptions. Brady doesn't need much time, but he gets plenty of it behind a great left-side tandem in tackle Matt Light and guard Logan Mankins. With defensive end Trevor Pryce out for the year with a torn pectoral, the pass rush is languishing again. Terrell Suggs has been nearly silent.

5. How will Kyle Boller fare against an underrated defense?

Boller could get confused by Patriots coach Bill Belichick's intricate schemes and decked often by blitzing outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. He needs to be careful about throwing in blue-chip cornerback Asante Samuel's direction and not get his receivers hurt by hanging them out to dry over the middle where enforcer safety Rodney Harrison lurks. The Ravens have to open things up a little bit. Those one-yard passes aren't accomplishing anything.

Who has the Edge?

Offense

Total (25) Rushing (19) Passing (22)

Quarterback

Kyle Boller still displays little to zero touch on short passes, a glaring weakness for a quarterback operating this ultra-conservative rendition of the West Coast offense. It's debatable whether Boller is doing enough to solidify his status as the starter for next season if Steve McNair is cut and the team doesn't acquire another veteran or draft a rookie in the first round.

Running back

Willis McGahee has run for a touchdown in each of the past six games. With 910 yards gained, he's on pace to finish with a career-high 1,324 yards. However, he remains an underutilized component of an underachieving offense.

Receivers

Derrick Mason has caught 79 passes to rank third in the NFL, seven behind his franchise record that he established in 2005. With 775 receiving yards, he's on pace to register 1,127 yards, which would rank second in club history.

However, the offense lacks a deep threat with Demetrius Williams out with a high-ankle sprain and Mark Clayton bottled up by defenders who haven't had to account for injured Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap.

Offensive line

The Ravens have allowed 27 sacks over the past four games, including four sacks in a 32-14 loss last week to the San Diego Chargers. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden struggled markedly against Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. Rookie guard Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown continue to be the most reliable blockers.

Defense

Total (4) Rushing (2) Passing (15)

Defensive line

Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg are extremely stout against the run, and the team is campaigning for Gregg to make his first Pro Bowl. Still, there's no pass rush here. They didn't even sack Philip Rivers once last week. Dwan Edwards represents a big drop-off from Trevor Pryce. The Ravens need to get some pressure out of rookie Antwan Barnes to try to keep Tom Brady honest.

Linebackers

Ray Lewis has had an emotional week, taking the death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor extremely hard. He has been huddling with team chaplain Rod Hairston and has admitted that football is on the back burner this week. Bart Scott has had an extremely quiet encore after last year's Pro Bowl campaign. Jarret Johnson's usually stalwart tackling could be hampered by a broken thumb on his right hand.

Secondary

If Chris McAlister is out with a knee injury, they could be in severe trouble, even more than the trouble that's already brewing as they try to contend with Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Ben Watson. This looks like target practice for Brady.

Special teams

In eight career games against New England, Matt Stover has connected on 11 of 14 field-goal attempts and been perfect on 11 point-after tries. Stover is one point behind John Carney to rank fourth all-time in career scoring.

Offense

Total (1) Rushing (7) Passing (1)

Quarterback

Tom Brady is dominating the league with 39 touchdowns and four interceptions, another triumph in a pristine career launched as an nondescript sixth-round draft pick out of the University of Michigan. Now, he's taking aim at the Ravens' formerly-dominant defense.

Running back

The Patriots get it done here by committee with Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk picking up where an injured Sammy Morris left off. Collectively, the Patriots have rushed for 1,366 yards and a dozen touchdowns while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. It's an underrated group on a pass-first outfit.

Receivers

Randy Moss' career resurgence has been defined by 16 touchdown catches and 1,095 yards, more than any other receiver in the league. His counterpart, Wes Welker, has caught 81 passes for 878 yards and seven touchdowns with 13 receptions a week ago against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Offensive line

The left side is the strength of this unit, headlined by tackle Matt Light and star left guard Logan Mankins. Center Dan Koppen is a solid player and converted wrestler Stephen Neal is coming into his own at right guard. However, right tackle Nick Kaczur is truly the weak link upfront.

Defense

Total (3) Rushing (5) Passing (6)

Defensive line

Defensive end Richard Seymour is one of the most versatile, physical defensive linemen in the game. Nose guard Vince Wilfork is a destructive force inside. Ty Warren is a steady, strong run-stopper. In relief, Jarvis Green is a stealthy pass rusher.

Linebackers

Mike Vrabel is everywhere for the Patriots, usually winding up in the quarterback's face. Former Baltimore All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas may shift outside due to Rosevelt Colvin being placed on injured reserve. Tedy Bruschi uses his instincts and toughness to overcome any physical shortcomings, namely a lack of ideal size.

Secondary

Asante Samuel will be one of the most sought after commodities on the free agent marketplace. Ellis Hobbs is unheralded, but effective. Rodney Harrison remains an intimidating enforcer over the middle.

Special teams

Chris Hanson has punted an NFL-low 24 times. Stephen Gostkowski doesn't get much kicking practice other than extra points, only attempting 14 field goals and making 12. Wes Welker and Ellis Hobbs have formed a solid return tandem.

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

Three downs with ...

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason

1. On what he thinks it will take to win: "Just execute, that's all. That's all it takes to beat them. You execute, don't turn the ball over, stick to your game plan, apply pressure to them and don't sit back and be passive. They're a very good team, and if you're out there and you're passive, then they are going to take advantage of it.

"Just be smart in what you do because they're very disciplined and they're very smart at what they do. We have to get positive yards all the time. Don't get frustrated, I think we have a very good shot at winning the game."

2. On being 20-point underdogs: "Are we? To hell with it. We're going to go out there and play. It doesn't matter to me. We could have been 100-point underdogs. I know a lot of people figure we should just pack it up and not go out there and play. If that's the case, then so be it.

"But we're a football team just like they're a football team. I feel that if we go out there and do what we need to do and don't turn the ball over, then we have a good shot of winning this game. I'm not saying it just to be saying it. I believe in what we're doing as an offense and as a defense and special-teams unit. So, let's be a 20-point underdog. So be it."

3. On the Patriots running up the score: "That's them. If we were in that situation, I guarantee we would try to score 30 or 40 points, too. You can't fault them for doing that.

"It's the responsibility of the defense to stop them and our offense to score. So, if you don't want them to score 40 points, as a defense you stop them. And, if you want to win the game as an offense, you've got to score points."

Three downs with ...

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick 1. On if he's surprised by his offense's productivity: "Every time we go out on the field offensively, we go out with the intent to score. That's why your offense goes on the field. So, our expectations are to score every time we get the ball. That's the only reason for them to go out there.

"We've done that more this year than in the past, which is good, but, believe it or not, we've always been trying to score. I know it doesn't look like that, but it's what we've been trying to do."

2. On if last week's narrow escape over Philadelphia was a wakeup call: "I think we fully realize that. We played in a game like that two weeks ago in Indianapolis. We were down by 10 points with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Look, it's hard to win in this league. Whatever plays you need to win a game, wherever they come, that's what we get paid for.

"We know in the fourth quarter, games like that, there are going to be plays that we're going to have to make in all three phases of the game, and the team that makes the most of them is going to win. And the team that doesn't is going to come up short."

3. On why he thinks the Ravens are 4-7: "Again, I don't think records really mean anything. I'm not really concerned about what their record is, or our record this week. It's all about this week of preparation and how we play and coach Monday night. It will all be decided then.

"All the rest of it is meaningless. We look at what we see on tape, and what I see is a lot of good football players, a team that has a proven system with a lot experienced players that give us a lot of problems to get ready for. That's what we're going to try to do: put our best game out there Monday night, because that's what we think it's going to take."

How the Ravens can win

1. Contain Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Easier said than done, of course, but the Ravens have practically zero chance of victory if they don't negate the impact of the Patriots' top playmakers and take their chances against Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, Ben Watson and Kevin Faulk.

2. Block linebacker Mike Vrabel. It's Vrabel who's the Patriots' most dangerous pass rusher, not former Baltimore All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas. The Ravens' offensive line will need chip-blocking assistance on Vrabel.

3. Don't turn the ball over. One major reason why the Ravens are mired in this five-game losing streak is that they are worst in the NFL in turnover margin after finishing first in this critical category a year ago.

How the Patriots can win.

1. Exploit the Ravens' secondary. Tom Brady is licking his chops to operate against a secondary that has proven susceptible to the deep pass this season and an aggressive defensive coordinator who's more comfortable having his charges blitzing than he is covering.

2. Tackle Willis McGahee. McGahee qualifies as the Ravens' most reliable offensive weapon outside of possession receiver Derrick Mason. The Patriots don't really have many vulnerabilities, but McGahee has run well on practically every opponent all season long.

3. Get the football to Wes Welker. The Ravens are liable to overload coverage on Randy Moss, leaving Welker isolated one-on-one in the seam downfield. Underrating him is always a mistake.

INSIDE SLANT

Here are a few statistics worth noting about the Baltimore Ravens in the midst of their dismal season. Running back Willis McGahee has rushed or a touchdown in six consecutive games. McGahee has rushed for 910 yards to rank third in the NFL and is on pace to gain a career-high 1,324 yards.

The Ravens are 15-4 at home in December under Ravens coach Brian Billick, including six consecutive wins. Quarterback Kyle Boller has won eight of his past 10 starts at M&T Bank Stadium. Nine starters, including six past Pro Bowl selections, have missed a total of 44 games this year.

In the Ravens' last home Monday night game, they won 48-3 over the Green Bay Packers as Boller went 19 for 27 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and a career-high 136.8 quarterback rating. Kicker Matt Stover has scored 1,795 career points, ranking him one point away from tying John Carney for fourth on the NFL's all-time scoring chart.

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

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