By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
2:29 PM EDT, September 24, 2011
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE VS. RAMS RUN DEFENSE: The Rams' rush defense is last in the NFL, having surrendered an average of 177.5 yards. St. Louis could be the ideal opponent for the Ravens to reestablish their running game, which was ineffective last week in the loss to the Tennessee Titans. To get Ray Rice going, the Ravens will have to account for Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who made 14 tackles last week and led the Rams with 129 tackles last season. Veteran defensive tackle Fred Robbins' main responsibility is occupying blockers and keeping them off Laurinaitis. The return of guard Ben Grubbs would certainly be a nice boost for the Ravens. If he remains out with a toe injury, the Ravens could start Mark LeVoir, who got the call last week, or use Andre Gurode. The Ravens have averaged 107.5 yards on the ground, 12th in the NFL
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE VS. RAMS PASS DEFENSE: All eyes will be on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who is coming off one of his worst games as a pro. Flacco never looked comfortable against the Titans, throwing for 197 yards and two interceptions. He could be without his No. 2 wide receiver as Lee Evans' status is uncertain because of a persistent left ankle injury. His and David Reed's absence should lead to greater roles for rookies Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams. None of the three has caught an NFL pass. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is known for advocating aggressive blitz schemes. The Rams already have six sacks this season after compiling 43 last year. St. Louis' top pass rushers are James Hall and Chris Long, who have totaled three sacks. Veteran safety Quintin Mikell anchors a secondary that has given up an average of 174 yards through the air, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL. The Ravens' Anquan Boldin has six career 100-yard receiving games against St. Louis.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE VS RAVENS RUN DEFENSE: Whether Steven Jackson plays or not — and he's expected to be a game-time decision — it's hard to foresee the Rams' getting too much going on the ground. The Ravens have shut down the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall and the Titans' Chris Johnson, allowing an average of 70 rushing yards, the fourth-lowest total in the NFL. They've also had a top-five rushing defense for five straight seasons. Jackson, who is dealing with a quadriceps injury, rushed for a 47-yard touchdown on the Rams' first offensive play of the season. Since, St. Louis' running game has accrued 166 yards on 44 carries. Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood would carry the load if Jackson were out. Williams had 91 yards on 19 carries Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, but wasn't a factor Monday against the New York Giants. Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis, second on the team with 15 tackles, has averaged 13.5 tackles in four career games versus the Rams.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: If the Ravens can get a consistent pass rush on second-year quarterback Sam Bradford, the advantage here would shift emphatically to them. Bradford has been sacked six times and hurried 25 times over the first two games. But the Ravens had zero sacks last week, and a banged up secondary was picked apart by Matt Hasselbeck for 358 yards. The Ravens' pass defense ranks 28th in the NFL. The Rams don't have as dangerous a receiving tandem as the Titans, but Mike Sims-Walker, Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson are capable of making plays down the field. Bradford, the Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, has completed just 51.3 percent of his passes, but he's also one of four starting quarterbacks who has yet throw an interception. His most reliable target, Danny Amendola, remains out with an elbow injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Injuries have affected both teams' return games, with Amendola going down for the Rams and Reed, who returned a kickoff 77 yards for the Ravens last Sunday, out for a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury. Rookie Greg Salas has taken Amendola's place; he botched a punt Monday that led to a Giants score. Lardardius Webb, LaQuan Williams and Smith could factor in the return game this week. The Ravens are averaging 35.8 yards per kickoff return, 13 more than the Rams. However, St. Louis' coverage unit has been stingier. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and has touchbacks on seven of 10 kickoffs. Josh Brown has made five of six field-goal tries, while Donnie Jones has averaged 43.8 yards per punt for the Rams.
INTANGIBLES: The Rams were believed to be a team on the rise and came within one win of taking the NFC West behind a rookie quarterback last season. But in two losses this year, they've been mistake-prone and undisciplined, leading to speculation that Spagnuolo's job could be in jeopardy. Spagnuolo's injury-marred roster has committed 17 penalties for 145 total yards, fumbled six times (losing three) and scored just one touchdown in five trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. After the Ravens, the Rams' next four games are against the undefeated Washington Redskins, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, so this is a huge game for them. The Ravens are coming off a poor effort in Tennessee, but they have more veteran leadership and have proved they can win away from M&T Bank Stadium. They are tied with Indianapolis and Philadelphia for the NFL's second-most road victories since coach John Harbaugh's arrival in 2008.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have had little trouble bouncing back from tough losses in the past, and Sunday should be no different. The Rams have the look of a reeling team, and they don't appear to have enough firepower on either side of the ball to threaten the Ravens. Even with a banged-up receiving corps, Flacco will be able to move the ball, and the Ravens defense will make it awfully tough for the talented Bradford. It will be a good opportunity to build some momentum into next weekend's showdown against Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
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