Vikings Pregame Analysis: Unsung Ravens

The Ravens have plenty of highly publicized, high-motor players on their team, but they are starting to build some impressive depth, especially on offense – yes, the Baltimore offense – if their preseason is any indication. Certainly, it will be a good barometer for the Vikings Friday night.

NO JAMAL, NO PROBLEM: The Ravens won't be playing running back Jamal Lewis tonight at the Metrodome against the Vikings, but that doesn't mean Baltimore will be without a running game.

Anyone who plays fantasy football knows former Denver Broncos running back Mike Anderson is a force. After six seasons in Denver, the 2000 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year will look to establish himself as a formidable backup to Lewis. However, Anderson, who has two 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, may not even be the best running back on the Ravens' side of the field tonight.

A little-known but very impressive Musa Smith is coming on strong. Smith is in his fourth season, but he spent much of the past two seasons recovering from a broken leg suffered in 2004. After two preseason games, Smith leads the Ravens with 146 yards rushing, including a 43-yard touchdown against Philadelphia.

Lewis' contract is structured in such a way that if he falters again in 2006, the Ravens could sever ties after this season and move on with Anderson and Smith.

If the Vikings' first-team run defense looks solid again in the first half tonight, don't assume it was just because Jamal Lewis was out of the lineup. Anderson and Smith are both quality backs.

WHO'S NO. 3? Strange as the following phrase may sound, the Ravens' starting receivers seem pretty well set. The battle on the team is behind front-liners Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, and the Vikings likely will see a healthy amount of the top three candidates vying for No. 3.

Clarence Moore, a third-year WR, has been slowed some by a recent surgery, but Devard Darling came on strong with 121 yards on five catches, including a 27-yard touchdown, against the Eagles. And then there is Demetrius Williams, a fourth-round draft pick out of Oregon, who is also very much in the mix for the third spot.

With Steve McNair at quarterback, a solid and deepening receiving corps, and a solid and deep running game, the Ravens appear to finally have an offense to complement their defense.

Between Darling and Smith, they own the six longest plays for the Ravens this season.

ONE OFFENSIVE QUESTION: We know Lewis won't be starting, but the Ravens' nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Jonathan Ogden, might not play either. Adam Terry has started in Ogden's spot while he gets back into the football mode after the death of his father.

MIDDLE MAN MISSING? Baltimore Ravens football can't be talked about without mentioning the trademark defense that carried them to a Super Bowl win, but there is a possible weakness in the D. First-round draft pick Haloti Ngata has struggled with a sprained knee this preseason, and one opponent already has mentioned he thought Ngata might be a little soft.

Even though that might be the case, the Ravens have still allowed only 2.6 yards per rush this preseason.

PITTSBURGH LINEBACKER: How can there be a "Pittsburgh linebacker" in the Baltimore defense? That's the name given for the role that Adalius Thomas plays. He has proved to be a versatile player, lining up at his usual strongside linebacker spot, as a rush defensive end and even as a safety in certain defensive packages.

Thomas was voted the team MVP by the media last year. He played nearly every defensive position and had three defensive touchdowns, nine sacks (led the team) and 104 tackles in 2005.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis may have the more publicized name, but Thomas is an interesting player to watch.

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