Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS 1. Will the Baltimore Ravens break their losing streak today against the winless Miami Dolphins? As the Ravens (4-9) arrive at Dolphin Stadium today to play a hapless, 0-13 Miami team, they are already pondering the unthinkable.

What if they manage to give the Dolphins their lone victory and fail to snap a franchise-record seven-game losing streak? Could a loss make team owner Steve Bisciotti rethink his decision to retain coach Brian Billick? This is a game the Ravens absolutely must win. It's simply a matter of pride. By the way, this should be an extremely small crowd for this game that matches two NFL bottom feeders.

2. How will the young cornerbacks fare after struggling against Peyton Manning?

They shouldn't be afraid of journeyman former Baltimore training camp invitee Cleo Lemon at quarterback. However, Derrick Martin, David Pittman and, to a lesser extent, Corey Ivy have proved vulnerable against several quarterbacks. This should be one they can handle. Lemon has thrown just three touchdown passes with six interceptions.

3. Will Willis McGahee have a big game? The Ravens' offensive centerpiece fumbled against the Indianapolis Colts and rushed for just 57 yards in a 44-20 blowout. However, he should be capable of piling up the yards against the Dolphins, who have the worst-ranked run defense in the league.

4. How will Jonathan Ogden do in his personal duel with Jason Taylor?

Taylor has outstanding speed, and speed rushers have given Ogden trouble over the past few years, especially Dwight Freeney. Taylor isn't having a banner season with eight sacks after recording 13.5 a year ago, but he's still the best pass rusher the Ravens have played against since Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who had a career day rushing upfield against Ogden.

5. Will the Ravens be able to contain Ted Ginn on special teams?

Ginn has nearly world-class speed, but the Ravens' kick coverage units are usually up to the task. The former Ohio State star isn't nearly the football player that Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs is. They should be able to keep him from scoring his second touchdown this season.

Who has the Edge?

Offense

Total (25) Rushing (18) Passing (22)

Quarterback

Kyle Boller increased the growing doubt that he can be a viable NFL quarterback with his meltdown against the Indianapolis Colts, which included three interceptions and a lost fumble. Under contract for next season, it's unclear whether he'll ever stop being such an erratic, inconsistent performer.

Running back

Willis McGahee didn't follow up his epic game against the New England Patriots, losing a key fumble against the Colts and being held to 57 rushing yards overall. This was an uncharacteristically bad game for the former Pro Bowl runner, who has revitalized the Ravens' running game since being acquired in an offseason trade.

Receivers

Derrick Mason broke his own single-season receptions record with his 87th catch of the year, but he hasn't made an impact as a downfield target. The Ravens sorely miss tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Demetrius Williams. Plus, wide receiver Mark Clayton hasn't been nearly as effective after last year's breakthrough.

Offensive line

The Ravens struggled to pass block against an undermanned Colts front seven missing Dwight Freeney. They could face some problems with a strong front seven headlined by former NFL Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Jason Taylor.

Defense

Total (5) Rushing (3) Passing (21)

Defensive line

Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg have been especially stout against the run despite fighting nagging knee and leg injuries. The lack of a pass rush, though, remains a concern. There's far too much time for quarterbacks to pick out their targets, and rush end Terrell Suggs hasn't had a banner season because of the absence of injured end Trevor Pryce.

Linebackers

Ray Lewis leads the team with 178 tackles and leads the franchise with 2,016 career tackles. Bart Scott has been a pivotal run stopper, but had an off-game against Joseph Addai, failing to check the quick runner out of the backfield last week. Scott's pass-rushing production has fell to one sack after leading all NFL inside linebackers a year ago with 9 1/2. He rarely gets his number called on blitzes anymore. Secondary



Ed Reed has quietly produced a quality season with six interceptions, but not even the Pro Bowl safety has been able to make up for the lack of quality depth at cornerback behind Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, who have dealt with injuries all season. Corey Ivy, Derrick Martin and David Pittman were sitting ducks last game as Peyton Manning used them for target practice.

Special teams

Kicker Matt Stover has converted 22 of 25 field goals in his 18th season. He's the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history with a .840 percentage on 430 of 512 career field goals. He's converted the most field goals in the league with 322 since 1996. Rookie return specialist Yamon Figurs became the first player in franchise history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.

Offense

Total (30) Rushing (20) Passing (26)

Quarterback

Former Ravens training camp invitee Cleo Lemon has a decent arm and solid mobility, but he wouldn't be starting for hardly any other NFL team. He's playing by default because of rookie John Beck's lack of readiness and Trent Green's season-ending concussion.

Running back

Samkon Gado and Jesse Chatman are journeymen, but they run hard and shouldn't be underestimated. Chatman runs with excellent power and body lean. Gado is a slashing back with a lot of heart.

Receivers

Marty Booker is an above-average possession receiver. Ted Ginn is a deep threat, but lacks polish. Tight end David Martin doesn't stretch the field well, but is a decent red-zone option.

Offensive line

Vernon Carey has improved markedly at left tackle this year, but this is a below-average unit overall that has allowed 29 sacks. Besides Carey, Miami starts left guard Cory Lekkerkerker, center Samson Satele, right guard Rex Hadnot and right tackle L.J. Shelton. It's an undistinguished group.

Defense

Total (20) Rushing (32) Passing (3)

Defensive line

This is the best part of the team with Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor, burly 37-year-old nose guard Keith Traylor and defensive end Matt Roth. Taylor has eight sacks and four forced fumbles.

Linebackers

Channing Crowder is a tough customer who leads Miami with 78 tackles. Joey Porter has more bark than bite at this stage of his career with just 2 1/2 sacks, but has used his savvy to intercept two passes.

Secondary

The Dolphins have used seven different starting tandems at safety due to multiple injuries. Cornerback Will Allen is a good athlete, as is safety Jason Allen, but he lacks experience and technique.

Special teams

Kicker Jay Feely is a good one, but has only attempted 19 field goals with 17 made. Punter Brandon Fields has had to kick it 56 times, but has averaged 43.2 yards despite the heavy workload. Ted Ginn is a dangerous return man.

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

How the Ravens can win

1. Run the football. The winless Dolphins' porous run defense is the worst in the league, allowing a staggering 155.4 yards on the ground per contest. Willis McGahee is more than capable of having a field day against this feeble outfit.

2. Blitz Cleo Lemon. Lemon is especially prone to miscues and has already thrown six interceptions and lost three fumbles in limited action. The former Baltimore castoff has a decent arm and moves around well, but he shouldn't be a match for this defense.

3. Block Jason Taylor. Although All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden is well-suited to halt Taylor's pass-rushing repertoire, this former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is so fast and such a hustler that the Ravens probably need a few orchestrated rollouts away from his side as well as some chip-blocking assistance.

How the Dolphins can win

1. Throw deep. The Ravens' secondary might be without starting cornerback Samari Rolle again today due to a shoulder injury. Plus, Chris McAlister was placed on injured reserve with a knee strain earlier this week. Baltimore yielded four long touchdown passes against the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins' top deep threat is rookie Ted Ginn, who averages 14.8 yards per reception.

2. Bait Kyle Boller. The quarterback can be fooled into mistakes and has a tendency to stare down his primary read, which led to three interceptions a week ago. He also lost a fumble. Boller's drawbacks all manifested themselves a week ago.

3. Break a long return. Ted Ginn is a speedster who already has returned one punt for a touchdown. He's averaging 23.6 yards per kickoff return and 10.1 per punt.

Three downs with ...

Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee

1. On what it would mean if the Ravens lose this game: "No, we can't say that. They're bound for a win, but we're not trying to give them their first win even though we're on a little streak losing-wise. But this is one game we must win."

2. On what makes the Dolphins' defense tough: "They've got a good defense as far as Jason Taylor and Joey Porter. I think Zach Thomas is out, but the other guys they have up there, they're pretty disciplined.

"It's not the defense when you watch them on TV. It's something else. I can't pinpoint what it is, but they've got a great scheme on defense, and you have to prepare for that."

3. On how hard this season has been: "It's tough. When I pictured the Ravens, I pictured the 13-3 team. I thought we were going to come back and be even better. But it didn't go as planned, as everybody thought it would.

"You have to fight through it. You have to stick together, have faith in your teammates. You can't abandon them right now. Even though it's going south, you have to be right there."

Three downs with ...

Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor

1.On if the Ravens and the Dolphins are both desperate for a win: "Yeah, we're both in search of getting the victory. They got four early in the year, and they lost to Buffalo before their break and kind of went on a slide from there.

"Both teams are desperate. We have enough problems and issues here that are outstanding that we're not really worried about what the Ravens are trying to do or what their problems are. We've got plenty of issues we need to address here."

2. On Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller: "Hearing second-hand, I hear a little bit that he gets kind of a tough deal of it up there. I think he's done a pretty good job. He's made some good plays, he's made some plays that I'm sure he wishes he could take back.

"I think he moves around well. He can throw the ball. I think he does a good job most of the time. But again he's made some mistakes. People come and get pressure on him at times, and he'll throw some balls or make some decisions that probably aren't the best."

3. On what he sees in Willis McGahee: "Everything. He's a really unique blend of size, strength, power, quickness, toughness. He's a very unique back.

"I know he talks about how he's the best back in the league, I've heard that talk on the Monday night game against the Patriots. And if he's not the best back in the league, he's darn near one of them. He's for sure one of them."

INSIDE SLANT

The rapid descent of the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins have followed similar tracks to abject failure. A year ago, the Ravens allowed the fewest points (12.6) in the league. Now, they have fallen to ninth-most in the NFL this season with a 24.2 average. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have surrendered the second-highest points per game with 27.3 per contest after allowing the fifth-least last season with a 17.7 average.

While the Ravens have seen starters lose a combined 54 games due to injuries, the Dolphins have fielded 13 different starting lineups on defense, including seven different starting tandems at safety. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas, running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and quarterback Trent Green are just four of the 13 players on injured reserve.

Poor quarterback play has impacted the Ravens' decline as well with injured starter Steve McNair committing 11 turnovers on four interceptions and seven lost fumbles while Kyle Boller has been intercepted nine times with four lost fumbles in relief of McNair, who underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder to repair a partially torn rotator cuff and was placed on injured reserve. Miami is down to Baltimore castoff Cleo Lemon at quarterback, which isn't a promising development.

During the Ravens' seven-game losing streak, they have lost to four division leaders in the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. The Dolphins have lost by 18 points to the Oakland Raiders, 21 points to the Buffalo Bills and 27 points to the New York Jets. Besides their wins over the Dolphins, they have a combined record of 9-25.

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

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