2. Will the secondary be able to contain the Cardinals’ passing game?
The Ravens have dealt effectively with potent tandems like this one before, but cornerback Samari Rolle, who’s contending with an illness that kept him out of practice, needs to be much more physical and challenge receivers with a jam at the line of scrimmage. He’s giving up way too much cushion. Meanwhile, Chris McAlister has to stop peeking into the backfield. Free safety Ed Reed is going to have to be selective and decisive in executing double-coverage over the top.
3. How will quarterback Steve McNair fare coming off an injury?
Traditionally. McNair, who’s coming off a groin pull, excels following an injury. He’s getting older, though, and it was disturbing to see him fumble three times and throw an interception in a loss he all but gift-wrapped for the Cincinnati Bengals. He should have plenty of time to set up in the pocket today as the Cardinals only have one sack this year.
4. Will the Ravens continue shutting down star runners?
Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have contained Pro Bowl running backs Rudi Johnson and Thomas Jones, limiting them to 50 yards and 67 yards, respectively. Despite Edgerrin James leading the NFC in rushing, he could be headed for a similar fate.
5. Is this the week that Willis McGahee breaks free? His longest run is 13 yards, but he’s been one block away from dashing into the secondary several times over the past two games. The Cardinals’ linebackers lack ideal speed.
Total (20) Rushing (15) Passing (22)
Steve McNair makes his return from a groin pull, two weeks removed from a horrendous season debut where he fumbled three times and was intercepted once. Will he have the mobility to elude the pass rush and regain his accuracy on deep to intermediate throws?
Willis McGahee is establishing himself as a legitimate inside threat, but the team hasn’t gotten him loose on the perimeter yet. He says he’s itching for a long touchdown run, and it seems like he’s close to breaking one. Musa Smith has been solid in relief, apparently supplanting Mike Anderson as the primary backup.
While Derrick Mason is off to a hot start as he’s tied for sixth in the league with 15 receptions, the Ravens haven’t been able to get Mark Clayton untracked due to lingering injuries and tight end Todd Heap hasn’t been as active as usual downfield because of his blocking responsibilities. Defense seem fully aware of Demetrius Williams’ capabilities.
With All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden out for the second week in a row, Adam Terry will get the call on the left side and rookie Marshal Yanda will start at right tackle again. Yanda didn’t commit any penalties against the Jets after being flagged for three in Cincinnati. Offensive guards Jason Brown, Chris Chester and Ben Grubbs have been doing a good job of creating holes for McGahee inside, but need to get to the second level to wall off linebackers and safeties.
Total (5) Rushing (3) Passing (17)
Losing four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce to a broken wrist is a major blow, but it’s softened by Dwan Edwards’ presence. Although he has underachieved for years, Edwards is in great shape now and has been making an impact as a reserve this year. Haloti Ngata has steamrolled blockers, but nose guard Kelly Gregg hasn’t been as mobile in pursuit as he usually is, a possible after-effect from an injury-plagued preseason.
Ray Lewis leads the team with 25 tackles and will match wits with Edgerrin James today. Bart Scott has been held sackless. Jarret Johnson has ably replaced Adalius Thomas, but Terrell Suggs has had a quiet start to the season. Rookie outside linebacker Antwan Barnes will be called upon as a situational rusher on third downs today.
They definitely have their work cut out for them against a potent receiving tandem comprised of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Samari Rolle is a question mark due to an illness. Chris McAlister can’t afford to get caught peeking in the backfield. Ed Reed, Corey Ivy, Dawan Landry and Gerome Sapp all need to tackle more crisply and communicate better.
Matt Stover has scored 1,731 career points and has the longest current tenure with one franchise than any other active NFL player. He’s been with the Cleveland Browns/Ravens since 1991. Punter Sam Koch has a 46.2 average, pinning three punts inside the 20-yard line, and ranks sixth overall in punting average. Special-teams ace Gary Stills had 160 special-teams tackles since 2002, more than any other player in the league.
Total (13) Rushing (6) Passing (20)
Matt Leinart is a young gunslinger, but he’s also a streaky passer in terms of accuracy and decision-making. One week, he looks like Joe Montana and the next he looks like a rich man’s Ryan Leaf. Great upside, though.
Edgerrin James is proving the critics that thought he was washed-up as wrong after a rough first year in the Valley of the Sun. He’s leading the NFC in rushing with 220 yards despite a young offensive line.
Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald represent a formidable duo, one that’s capable of embarrassing secondaries with their strength, speed and polished routes. Third receiver Bryant Johnson is a deep threat. Tight end Leonard Pope is mostly there for blocking.
The Ravens will try to confuse rookie right tackle Levi Brown and undrafted free agent rookie center Lyle Sendlein. Deuce Lutui is a massive right guard, but he’s slow and lacks endurance. Reggie Wells and Mike Gandy form a nondescript left side.
Total (10) Rushing (10) Passing (9)
Darnell Dockett and Bert Berry headline an otherwise ordinary group. Dockett is an intimidating inside presence, and Berry provides upfield speed off the edge. Gabe Watson, Antonio Smith and Alan Branch aren’t making many, if any, big plays.
Middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has gotten quicker as he’s lost weight and is a big, strong tackler after a few years as a special-teams apprentice. Calvin Pace and Karlos Dansby have had sketchy starts to their respective NFL careers.
It’s rough sledding across the middle against imposing safeties Adrian Wilson and Terrence Holt, two hitters who strike receivers that risk traversing their territory. Cornerbacks Rod Hood and Eric Green are underrated, pesky cover guys.
Neil Rackers is a quality kicker with a strong leg for deep kicks. Punter Mike Barr is averaging only 38.4 yards. Steve Breaston isn’t a very explosive return specialist.
EDGES: Quarterback: Even; Running back: Arizona; Receivers: Arizona; Offensive line: Baltimore; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers; Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Baltimore.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason has recorded the fourth-most catches in the NFL since 2003 with 360 receptions, ranking behind Torry Holt (419), Chad Johnson (385) and Marvin Harrison (367). Yet, Mason caught a higher percentage of attempts thrown his way (360 of 564) for a 63.8 percent clip, ahead of Harrison (63.4), Holt (61.9) and Johnson (58.7). Mason had the fewest number of throws directed his way of any player ranking in the top seven. Mason has 15 catches in two games, putting him on a lofty pace to catch 120 passes for 1,823 yards. His career-highs are 96 catches, 1,303 yards and nine touchdowns.