Coming off a bit of a shaky win, the Baltimore Ravens will come home to host their final tune-up game before a grueling remainder of the schedule. Their tilt Sunday against the Oakland Raiders will be the Ravens last game before they play five teams in the next six games that are .500 or better.
There was much left to be desired from the Ravens against the Cleveland Browns last week. The Ravens were coming off their bye week and taking on a team they have owned the past five years, yet their 10-point victory was very misleading. The Ravens were trailing the Browns by a point until they took the lead for good with just 4:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders meanwhile were on the wrong side of history last week, as Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie running back Doug Martin utterly desecrated the Raiders’ defense. The “Muscle Hamster” as he is now known, went for a gaughty total of 251 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Those totals must have Ray Rice licking his chops like a butcher’s dog as he now gets a shot at home to take on the Raiders 21st-rank rushing defense that is obviously reeling.
The Raiders’ pass defense is also ranked 21st so it will be another favorable opportunity for Joe Flacco to get his season turned around before the challenging stretch run. Flacco has continued to prove his critics right as he has not taken the next step to become an elite quarterback as he proclaims to be. This will be the last chance for Flacco to get fat on a poor team, so it is paramount that he builds confidence against an inferior opponent this week against the Raiders.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens’ defense had a big bounce-back effort against the Browns after getting shredded by the Houston Texans. The defense was the epitome of bending without breaking, as the defense allowed five field goals and no touchdowns on the Browns’ five trips to the red zone. Those points left on the field by the Browns offense proved to be huge as the Ravens put up 11 points in the final 4:26 of the game to seal the victory.
A big part of the improved defensive play came from the secondary, as the unit rounded into form. Cornerback Jimmy Smith looked exponentially more comfortable in his second start, and Corey Graham also played well as he saw increased playing time at cornerback. Cornerback Cary Williams continues to evolve as he is now tied for third in the league in interceptions with four. Safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were their usual productive selves as well as they are the anchors of the secondary.
The lack of push and pressure from the defensive lines continues to be worrisome for the Ravens as they are habitually losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. Haloti Ngata’s nagging injuries have slowed down his play severely, while the rest of the d-line has made a marginal impact this season. If the Ravens’ defense is going to regain its punishing reputation, the defensive linemen must step their game up.
A major factor that plays into the hands of the Ravens’ defense is the state of the Raiders’ running backs. Both Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson suffered high ankle sprains last week in the debacle against the Bucs. Both will miss the game against the Ravens, as backs Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece have been splitting reps at practice. Either way, the loss of both backs, but McFadden especially, should help the Ravens’ 28th-ranked run defense right the ship.
Overall, this game is immensely more important for the Ravens, as they have playoff aspirations as well as a daunting schedule on the horizon. The Ravens should handle the Raiders in their final tune-up, as both sides of the ball should be able to get back on track. The prediction here is the Ravens taking this game 31-20 and moving to 7-2 on the season.