Scouting the Schedule: Ravens


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We continue our series on the Patriots’ opponents today with the one that ended their 2010 season — the Baltimore Ravens.

John Harbaugh’s crew has become a chic pick to make it to Super Bowl XLV, and with good reason. The Ravens have won three playoff games the last two years, and juiced up their offense in the offseason while tweaking their vaunted defense by adding rookies Terrence Cody and Sergio Kindle. Our pal Aaron Wilson, who covers the team for the Carroll County Times, Annapolis Capital and Scout.com, and the AFC for the National Football Post, breaks it down for us …

Where they’re good: Stopping the run and running the football. Between elusive Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, one of the top all-purpose threats in the league, bruising Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain, who operates as Rice’s bodyguard, and former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee, the Ravens have one of the deepest backfields in the NFL.
During a 33-14 AFC divisional playoff win over the Patriots last season, the Ravens flexed some serious muscle as Rice busted an 83-yard run for a touchdown to begin the game and Baltimore finished with 234 rushing yards on the day.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is expected to expand the passing game in quarterback Joe Flacco’s third season. This offseason, the Ravens acquired three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin via a trade from the Arizona Cardinals. While the Ravens will definitely throw the football more this fall and Flacco has been very reliable so far, a physical running game remains their preferred method of moving the football.

Defensively, the Ravens are still headlined by All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and a big defensive line that features massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, rush end Terrell Suggs, and added beefy Alabama nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody in the draft. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison figures to blitz more this year.


The big camp questions: Injuries in the secondary. Star free safety Ed
Reed is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and isn’t expected to do
much during camp. His availability for the early portion of the season
is also in doubt, Reed recently acknowledged. He said he could be back
in September, October or even November. Plus, cornerbacks Fabian
Washington and Lardarius Webb are both coming off torn anterior
cruciate ligaments suffered late last season. Both are ahead of
schedule, but the timing of their injuries are a negative factor. Their
health is a paramount concern since Chris Carr and Walt Harris are the
main backups.

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Who will win the kicking battle between newcomer Shayne Graham and
incumbent Billy Cundiff? Graham is regarded as the favorite. Will
Dannell Ellerbe hold off Tavares Gooden and remain the starting inside
linebacker next to Lewis? Ellerbe is more durable and physical than
Gooden.

Needs to happen to win big:
Offensively, the Ravens have to achieve a
balance between the running game and the passing game. And Cameron will
need to formulate some more effective, less predictable red-zone
schemes. They’ll also need to keep everyone involved with enough
touches for Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Building a better deep passing
game, possibly with newcomer Donte’ Stallworth, is going to be
important.

Defensively, the Ravens have to be more aggressive and effective at
rushing the passer. That task falls heavily on Suggs, who was out of
shape last season and has vowed to report in better condition and
regain his Pro Bowl form. If the cornerback play isn’t good enough, the
Ravens will have trouble getting past the Indianapolis Colts in the
playoffs.

Where they stack up: The Ravens are emerging as a trendy Super Bowl
pick, but they have to address injury concerns and improve defensively
in order to make a serious run. They’re widely regarded as the
favorites to win the AFC North, but have had trouble beating the
Bengals lately. Cincinnati swept Baltimore last season for the third
time in the past five seasons.

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SCOUTING THE SCHEDULE SERIES
Wednesday: Bengals
Thursday: Jets
Yesterday: Bills
Today: Ravens
Tomorrow: Chargers