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Steve McNair has been fairly unproductive all season, but is regressing in terms of his decision-making and carelessness with the football. He has become more inaccurate against better defenses, and his mobility and arm strength aren’t what they used to be.
Jamal Lewis is under the gun, and his playing time is likely to be shared more liberally with Musa Smith and Mike Anderson. If Lewis gets off to another slow start, he’s pretty much assuring that this scenario will unfold.
Derrick Mason has expressed frustration with this sputtering offense, and his involvement has become more and more limited along with Mark Clayton and Todd Heap. This team moves the ball best when it allows McNair to improvise.
They literally have their hands full, particularly offensive tackle Tony Pashos, with blue-chipper Julius Peppers. He’s not the only problem. There’s massive tackles to block in Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu along with end Mike Rucker, who’s nearly as athletic as Peppers.
Total (2) Rushing (3) Passing (3)
Terrell Suggs is coming off an impressive game against the Broncos despite playing hurt. Trevor Pryce was nondescript in his return to Denver. Nose guard Kelly Gregg and tackle Haloti Ngata have been stout against the run.
Ray Lewis had some problems with Tatum Bell and now he’ll face off with DeShaun Foster. Adalius Thomas was the only linebacker that played up to his usually high standard against the Broncos. Even emerging force Bart Scott was quiet for a change.
Chris McAlister was having another terrific game until faltering in the final moments in the red zone against Rod Smith. Now, he’ll face a much younger, faster Smith: Steve Smith. Samari Rolle might have issues with Keyshawn Johnson’s superior size and strength.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS
Matt Stover has connected on his past 30 field goals, a personal-best and franchise-record. Return specialist B.J. Sams is coming off a solid, albeit unspectacular game and didn’t appear distracted by his driving under the influence arrest.
Total (23) Rushing (12) Passing (25)
Jake Delhomme is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league with his capacity to create plays downfield with his feet and wise decisions. His arm strength isn’t great, but he gets the ball where it needs to go most of the time.
DeShaun Foster is primarily a power runner, and he’ll have to carry a greater workload this week with elusive rookie DeAngelo Williams out with an ankle injury.
Steve Smith has the rare ability to back up his bold words. The undersized receiver is one of the most competitive, fast players in the league. Keyshawn Johnson has evolved as a possession receiver, but has actually threatened teams downfield more than in the past.
Center Justin Hartwig and offensive guard Mike Wahle are tough customers inside. The Panthers miss left tackle Travelle Wharton and had to move Jordan Gross over there.
Total (18) Rushing (21) Passing (16)
This is probably the best front four in the NFL with speedy ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker along with space-eating tackles Maake Kemoeatu, the former Baltimore starter, and former University of Maryland standout Kris Jenkins.
They’ve been severely depleted with middle linebacker Dan Morgan out for the year because of chronic concussions and Will Witherspoon’s offseason defection. Chris Draft is undersized, but has filled in capably for Morgan. Thomas Davis is their best athlete.
Teams don’t like to challenge cornerback Chris Gamble and usually go after Ken Lucas. Free safety Mike Minter is a big-time hitter. Strong safety Shaun Williams is a journeyman.
PANTHERS SPECIAL TEAMS
The Panthers have great stability with only one kicker in franchise history: John Kasay. He has hit 10 of 11 field goals. Punter Jason Baker, whom Baltimore pursued as a free agent, is averaging 46.4 yards. Kickoff returns will suffer without DeAngelo Williams’ presence.