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OWINGS MILLS — A scouting report of the Baltimore Ravens versus the San Diego Chargers:
5 CRITICAL QUESTIONS
1. Who will remain undefeated?
This is the initial proving ground for the undefeated Baltimore Ravens (3-0) and San Diego Chargers (2-0), both of whom have feasted on opponents who have so far been incapable of winning a football game. Today’s winner would seem to go a long way toward legitimizing their status as an organization to be taken seriously in the league standings. The loser won’t be dismissed, but the result of this game will obviously be heavily factored. A win would give the Ravens an unprecedented 4-0 start and would give Baltimore their fifth victory in a row at M&T Bank Stadium, a streak that began last November with a 16-13 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. All week, the Ravens have acknowledged that this is their first true test. Now, they’ll find out if they’re really worthy of darkhorse Super Bowl contender mention or not. The Chargers have been installed as a 2 1/2 point favorite.
2. Can the Ravens contain LaDainian Tomlinson?
It’s a rare feat to shut down the Chargers’ All-Pro runner, and Baltimore wasn’t able to three years ago in a 24-10 win where he piled up 150 all-purpose yards from scrimmage, including 105 yards rushing. Stopping Tomlinson requires an all-out commitment, and that’s what the Ravens are likely to employ today with at least eight players at the line of scrimmage. If they wind up losing, then it will likely be at the hands of young quarterback Philip Rivers, not the Chargers’ top gun.
3. Which quarterback will be harassed the most?
Steve McNair has already been sacked five times and hit countless other times. His counterpart, Rivers, hasn’t been sacked yet and has only been hit twice. The Ravens, who are tied with Philadelphia for the most sacks in the NFL with 16, might be without one of their best pass rushers, rush end Terrell Suggs, due to a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, San Diego features brawny, swift outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, one of the elite defensive players in the league. The odds appear to be in the Chargers’ favor in this critical matchup.
4. Is Jamal Lewis primed for a breakthrough?
Lewis demonstrated signs of regaining some of his old explosiveness last week. This is the first time he hasn’t been on the injury report, perhaps a telling sign that he’s ready to rumble downfield for yardage. The Chargers have the top-ranked defense.
5. Will key injuries derail the Baltimore defense?
Besides possibly not having Suggs, the Ravens could be doubly challenged if safety Ed Reed doesn’t play because of a foot injury that forced him to miss two practices to end the week. Kellen Winslow operated at will against Baltimore last week. It’s scary for the Ravens to imagine what tight end Antonio Gates might have in store for them.
Kicker Matt Stover is on pace for a career-high and franchise-record 170 points. He has converted a perfect 9-for-9 on field goal attempts. He connected on the 12th game-winning field goal of his 17-year career during last week’s 15-14 win over the Cleveland Browns and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He has hit his last 290 PATs, dating back to 1999, fourth on the all-time list. He is the third-most accurate kicker (83.9 percent) in NFL history.