Five things to watch: Baltimore Ravens
December, 12, 2010
By James Walker | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Nick WassFor an offense that should have been one of the best in the league, the Ravens are averaging just 21.7 points per game. Receiver Derrick Mason said the offense looked like "The Bad News Bears."Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) will play their second consecutive prime-time game when they take on the Houston Texans (5-7) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET).
Here are five things to watch for Baltimore:
1. Can the Ravens bounce back? Since 2006, Baltimore is just 4-4 in regular-season games after playing Pittsburgh. There is a reason the Ravens play just .500 football after facing the Steelers. Every year these are the most emotional and physically demanding games in Baltimore's season -- and last week was no different. Pittsburgh struggled most of the game but scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come from behind and hand the Ravens their first home loss of the season. There was plenty of frustration in Baltimore's locker room afterward. The Ravens may have blown their chance to win the AFC North and host at least one home playoff game. But they have to regroup and bounce back against Houston after a tough defeat.
2. Can the offense keep up? Baltimore's offense entered the season with high expectations. After the Ravens acquired receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth to go with a strong stable of running backs, Baltimore had one of the NFL's deepest collection of skill players. But entering Week 14, Baltimore's offense is still searching for consistency. The Ravens are No. 14 in total offense and No. 17 in scoring at 21.7 points per game. Baltimore is averaging just 13.5 points the past two weeks, prompting receiver Derrick Mason to call the offense "The Bad News Bears." It's not quite that bad for the Ravens. But the offense needs to step up and counter Houston's No. 7-rated offense.
3. Stopping Foster: Baltimore is solid against the run -- rated No. 6 in the NFL -- but this may be its stiffest test this year, facing NFL rushing leader Arian Foster. He already has 1,230 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Houston has the reputation of being a wide-open passing team. But the Texans have drastically improved their running game behind Foster this season, which makes their offense very dangerous. The Ravens have to corral Foster and keep him under 100 yards rushing.
4. More sizzle: Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose nickname is "T. Sizzle," has been on fire recently. He has 5.5 sacks the past five games and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for November. Suggs had his best game of the season last week against Pittsburgh, recording five tackles, 1.5 sacks and five additional hits on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore needs similar pressure on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, and Suggs will play a major role.
5. Replacing Heap: Ravens starting tight end Todd Heap injured his hamstring last week and isn't expected to play against Houston. That means rookie tight end Ed Dickson is the next player up for Baltimore. The third-round pick probably will make his first career start on the NFL's biggest stage. Dickson has eight receptions for 112 yards this season. His game is not as refined as Heap's, but Dickson is a good athlete with the ability to go vertical and stretch the field.
1:00 PM ET New Orleans Atlanta 1:00 PM ET Minnesota St. Louis 1:00 PM ET Cleveland Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Baltimore 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Chicago 1:00 PM ET Washington Houston 1:00 PM ET Tennessee Kansas City 1:00 PM ET New England Miami 4:25 PM ET Carolina Tampa Bay 4:25 PM ET San Francisco Dallas 8:30 PM ET Indianapolis Denver