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1. Will the Ravens’ second-ranked defense sustain their imitation of their vintage Super Bowl form? Yes and no. This is a revamped, rejuvenated unit, but it lacks the experience that the 2000 edition had on the interior defensive line. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis flashed signs of his old dominating game a week, but it remains unclear if that’s an aberration or an indicator of how he’ll play all year long. He got more than adequate support from linebackers Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas.
Plus, safety Ed Reed is back to his ball-hawking ways and cornerback Chris McAlister appears fully engaged in the game unlike a year ago. There are three players who could transform an extremely good defense into a truly great one that could approach the Ravens’ gold standard, and Baltimore needs to get even more out of rush end Terrell Suggs, defensive end Trevor Pryce and rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The Raiders were devastated by the San Diego Chargers, generating just 129 yards in their first home shutout in 25 years and only the second in their 46-year history. There’s little reason to think their prospects will improve significantly against a voracious Baltimore defense.
2. Will quarterback Steve McNair and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel expand the passing game? The Ravens were fairly conservative a week ago, content to control the football with short to intermediate passes. A greater level of proficiency from McNair could encourage Fassel to open things up, particularly if the Raiders begin forcing the issue with blitzes to try to stop the run and attack McNair, who has lost some mobility. One reason why the Ravens might want to challenge Oakland deep is it had the fewest interceptions (five) in the NFL last season and has injuries in the secondary.
3. How many sacks will the Ravens finish with and how long before Andrew Walter is under center? The Raiders allowed nine sacks last week, including three to Shawne Merriman. The Ravens only unveiled a portion of Rex Ryan’s blitz packages a week ago, so Oakland quarterback Aaron Brooks could be in store for a painful afternoon. He seemed to panic against San Diego.
4. Is Jamal Lewis primed for a breakthrough? After observing the Raiders give up 131 yards to LaDainian Tomlinson on Monday night, the Ravens will likely maintain their ball-control attack. Baltimore has been running to set up the pass and the Raiders will probably have to honor the passing game too much to stack eight men in the box, leaving them vulnerable to the power running game. The Raiders’ tackling is shoddy.
5. How long before Randy Moss throws a fit? The wideout is on the verge of a temper tantrum, and he’s likely to let his displeasure be felt in a not-so constructive way if he doesn’t get what he wants: the football in his hands, a lot.
Aaron Wilson cover the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.