NEW CHALLENGE FOR SECONDARY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Another week, another dangerous opponent for the Ravens secondary.

For the fifth time this season and second time in the past three weeks, the defensive backfield faces a top-flight quarterback-wide receiver tandem. On Monday night, the Ravens will tangle with the Green Bay Packers' sixth-ranked passing offense.

"We have a challenge every week, and this week, it's pretty clear," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "Have to battle the elements and that great passing attack that they have up there."

The Ravens have not been overly successful against potent passing offenses, beating the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 20 before losing to the New England Patriots on Oct. 4, the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 18 and the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 22.

The Packers have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who ranks in the top four in the NFL in passing yards (3,136), touchdowns (22) and passer rating (104.9), and Donald Driver (53 catches for 845 yards and five touchdowns) and Greg Jennings (47-722-3).

"Their wide receiving corps is magnificent," Ravens rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "They're great, and this quarterback, he's got an arm like a rocket. So we just have to prepare well. We have to go out and practice hard so that when we do play these guys, we can be on point and be a step ahead of these guys."

The secondary has appeared to tighten its coverage compared with earlier in the season. After surrendering nine touchdowns and an average of 257.7 passing yards while recording seven interceptions in the first six games, the Ravens have limited opponents to three touchdowns and an average of 183.8 passing yards while making five interceptions in the past five games.

"There's a lot of people who would probably dispute this, but I think our secondary has played well all year," coach John Harbaugh said. "We've talked about specific plays where we've had lapses and let the ball get thrown over our heads, but some of those have been scrambles, some of those have been situations where the quarterback's been on the run and guys have broken loose over [the] top, and some have been some mistakes early on. We haven't given up too many lately. I think we've covered tight all year, aggressively all year. Our guys study like no group I've ever seen, extremely well-coached. So we think we match up fine. It's going to be a real good secondary against a real good group of receivers."

Short on the O-line

Changes along the offensive line highlighted Thursday's practice. Starting left tackle Jared Gaither did not practice because of illness, and starting center Matt Birk - dressed in a gray sweat shirt and black shorts - watched from the sideline.

Oniel Cousins lined up in Gaither's spot, and David Hale filled in for Birk. It was unusual because when Gaither missed two games earlier this season with a neck injury, rookie Michael Oher moved from his customary right tackle position to the left side, and Marshal Yanda replaced Oher with Chris Chester manning right guard.

Since being drafted by the Ravens in the third round in 2008, Cousins has played in five games but has not started. Hale, who was selected in the fourth round that same year, has played in six games but has also never started. Meanwhile, Chester has made 30 starts in his four-year career, including one at center.

Injury update

Quarterback Joe Flacco said Thursday that his right ankle "feels really good right now."

Flacco sprained the ankle Oct. 18 against the Vikings and "re-rolled" it Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He limped noticeably against the Steelers as he completed 23 of 35 passes for 289 yards and one touchdown.

"It still feels really good right now," said Flacco, who practiced without any complications Thursday. "It's just going to be a matter that it doesn't happen again."

Meanwhile, three starters - free safety Ed Reed (ankle, hip), linebacker Terrell Suggs (sprained ligament in left knee) and fullback Le'Ron McClain (abdominal strain) - and four other players - wide receiver Kelley Washington (illness), tight end L.J. Smith (ankle), linebacker Prescott Burgess (hamstring) and rookie safety K.J. Gerard (thigh) - did not practice.

Linebacker Ray Lewis (foot) was limited in practice. Linebacker Jarret Johnson (left shoulder) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right ankle) participated fully.

Barnes frustrated

Linebacker Antwan Barnes acknowledged that he was frustrated about being deactivated against the Steelers.

Billed as a potential successor to Suggs when he was selected in the 2007 draft, Barnes has been a healthy scratch in five of the team's past six games, dating to Oct. 11, when his failed tackle contributed to Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson's 28-yard touchdown run. Rookie Paul Kruger has leapfrogged Barnes on the depth chart, and his interception of Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon set up the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win.

"It's frustrating to sit on the sideline and watch the guys play," Barnes said. "But that's what they've got in the game plan. I'm going to go into every week thinking that I'm going to play. That's what you've got to do. You've just got to work even harder and practice even harder to show the coaches that you're ready to play."

End zone

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder), running back Ryan Grant (shoulder) and offensive tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) were limited in practice. Rodgers (ribs) practiced fully. ... Lewis was surprised to hear that former Raven and current Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis' season and career had ended because of lingering effects from a concussion. "Hopefully, that concussion doesn't linger," Lewis said. "But Lew played the game the way the game was supposed to be played." ... Ngata said he and linemate Dwan Edwards had a bet on Thursday night's Oregon-Oregon State game, with the loser having to wear the winning team's sweat shirt. "I'm pretty confident," Ngata, a former Ducks player, said a few hours before the game. But Edwards, who played for the Beavers, said he never agreed to the bet. "We're not doing that," he said. "If we were at home, I might feel a little better about that." ... Harbaugh didn't disagree with a reporter's suggestion that the Ravens might be growing tired of the questions about playing at Lambeau Field. "That's the old Hoosiers analogy, right? The net is [still] 10 feet high," he said. "So it'll be 100 yards by 53-and-a-third. It's a great place to play, and our guys are looking forward to it."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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