The Ravens have a great chance to push themselves back over the .500 mark this week, as the Oakland Raiders come to B’More. This is the 2nd of the “gift” games the Ravens get in 2008, against the other AFC teams that finished last in their divisions last year (the other was last week against the Dolphins). The Raiders are coming off a feel-good win against the New York Bretts, a 16-13 overtime job. Their other victory came in week 2 against the listless Kansas City Chiefs, 23-8. Newly minted Head Coach Tom “The Cable Guy” Cable is undefeated in his tenure.
Its been quite a dramatic week here in B’More, as documented previously. Let’s hope the purple and black can rise above all that mess and put the beatin on a team that they shouldn’t have much trouble with. The Raiders feature 2nd-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who they should be able to confuse and frustrate all day. Russell hasn’t played totally terrible, tossing 5 touchdowns to go with only 2 picks, but he is completing only 51% of his passes, has lost 4 fumbles and been sacked 14 times. The Raiders game plan is very similar to the Ravens: use a strong running game to protect your young quarterback and open up passing lanes. Running backs Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden, the rookie from Arkansas, are a very capable duo. But, as we know, nobody runs on the Ravens. They still rank first in the NFL in run defense, and had no trouble stopping the gimmicky “wildcat” last week in Miami. McFadden has been slowed by a toe injury, and was limited in practice this week.
The Raiders defense is led by veteran cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan (Rex’s twin brother) runs a similar system to the Ravens’, featuring lots of blitzes and pre-snap movement meant to confuse the opposing offensive line and quarterback. Although they rank near the bottom of the league in yardage and points allowed, they have picked off 7 passes, just 1 shy of the Ravens’ 8. Rookie QB Joe Flacco will have to build on last week’s strong performance and continue to protect the football with his life. Getting the running game cranked up with Willis McGahee and Ray Rice will go a long way to securing another victory. We’d like to see our boy Le’Run get some more carries this week as well, after only 6 carries for 17 yards in Miami.
One area where the Raiders have a definite advantage, and where Ravens faithful should be a bit queasy going into the game, is on special teams. Of course there is the huge leg of kicker Sebastian Janikowski to contend with, but the real area of concern is on returns. The Raiders are 13th in the NFL in kick returns, averaging 23.2 yards, with 3 returns of 40 or more yards. The Ravens rank 24th, and have yet to break a 40+ yarder, although Ray Rice looked remarkably better last week than Yamon Figurs (who still is not practicing) has so far this season.
The only real concerns regarding the injury report are Derrick Mason, who has been out with an illness, and Demetrius Williams, with an Achilles. Whatever illness Mason has (we sure hope to hell its not tonsilitis), let’s hope it clears up by Sunday. Otherwise, the Ravens may be forced to go with Mark Clayton, Ernie Wheelright, and Marcus Smith as their wideouts. Not a promising scenario, especially considering how crucial Mason has been in the offense this year, finding holes in the defense and providing a security blanket for Joe Flacco.
Another intangible the Ravens have working in their favor this week is the cross-country trip the Raiders are forced to make. No West Coast team has won a game in the Eastern time zone yet in 2008. The last time the silver-and-black visited M&T Bank Stadium, in 2006, the Ravens handed them a 28-6 whooping. On paper, this one looks similar. This is a game they have to win: a home game, against a bad team that just flew 3000 miles, with basically a rookie quarterback, and a head coach in his 2nd game.
I’d go ahead and predict a shutout, but since Janikowski can put one through the uprights from the Aquarium, that probably won’t materialize.
Ravens 20 Raiders 6