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How many tricks does Steve McNair have left in his last-minute magic act? The high-wire act has been working for Baltimore so far, but this will be the best secondary he’s faced yet. It’s hard to challenge Champ Bailey.
Jamal Lewis has disappeared and there hasn’t even been a hint of an effective running game. Lewis is going down on first contact, and his peripheral vision has been less than ideal, hurting his chances to evade tacklers.
This is clearly the best part of the offense, but Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap aren’t utilized often enough and involved in imaginative play-calls. It’s been fairly predictable stuff so far.
With left guard Edwin Mulitalo out for the season, Jason Brown is on the spot. He should be all right, but center Mike Flynn and right guard Keydrick Vincent could have issues tracking down the Broncos’ speedy linebackers.
Total (2) Rushing (1) Passing (4)
This is Trevor Pryce’s homecoming and he’s eager to prove that Mike Shanahan was wrong to give up on him. Kelly Gregg is coming off a rare subpar game.
Bart Scott is quietly eclipsing Ray Lewis as the first linebacker in opponents’ conversations. Lewis is still playing at a high level, but hasn’t tackled nearly as well as Scott or made as many big plays as Adalius Thomas.
Teams have been picking on Samari Rolle, but this veteran cornerback has a short memory. Chris McAlister hasn’t played this well in several years. Ed Reed’s timing seems to be off.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS
B.J. Sams ranks second in the league in kickoff return average and ninth as a punt returner, but his second DUI arrest in 14 months is a major concern. Matt Stover might be the most valuable player on the team, booting a franchise-record 29 consecutive field goals. He’s tied as the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Total (15) Rushing (4) Passing (26)
Jake Plummer is a streaky passer who’s coming off an impressive game against New England. Sometimes, he flashes back to his old undisciplined Arizona form, but usually he’s under control.
Tatum Bell has the speed to stretch the defense vertically with linebacker Bart Scott calling him a homerun hitter. Bell is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but has yet to score a touchdown.
Javon Walker represents an explosive downfield threat and has an 83-yard reception under his belt. He’s beginning to develop a connection with Plummer. Finally after years of defying Father Time, Rod Smith is showing his age.
Matt Lepsis, Ben Hamilton, Tom Nalen, Cooper Carlisle and George Foster aren’t household names, but they can definitely block and rank as one of the top offensive lines in the game. They play with a nasty streak and are technically sound.
Total (17) Rushing (18) Passing (19)
It’s Cleveland Browns West with Gerard Warren, Ebenezer Ekuban, Michael Myers, Courtney Brown and Kenard Lang populating this group. This is the weak point of a classic bend-but-don’t break defense that could be an elite group if it had better playmakers upfront.
Ian Gold, Al Wilson and D.J. Williams are probably the fastest linebacking corps in the game, active and aggressive on virtually every play.
Champ Bailey could garner Hall of Fame distinction one day. John Lynch is a heavy hitter at safety. Darrent Williams and former Terp Domonique Foxworth have been picked on at times with quarterbacks avoiding Bailey’s side of the field.
BRONCOS SPECIAL TEAMS
Jason Elam remains one of the top kickers in the game in terms of accuracy and range. Punter Paul Ernster is averaging 44.6 yards per game. The return game is untested largely because of a lack of opportunities.
AND THE EDGES GO TO: Quarterback: Even; Running back: Denver; Receivers: Baltimore: Offensive line: Denver; Defensive line: Baltimore: Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Even; Special teams: Baltimore.
Tight end Todd Heap has thrived under the spotlight of Monday night games, catching 19 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns in four Monday night starts. Ten of those catches produced first downs, and the Ravens are 4-1 in Monday night games since drafting Heap in the first round. Since 2004, Heap has 22 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the final two minutes of a game with 63.6 percent of those catches going for either first downs or touchdowns.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland