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1. Can the Baltimore Ravens keep the running game rolling?

As the Ravens (3-3) take on the Oakland Raiders (2-4) today at M&T Bank Stadium, they’ll be looking to pound the football with running back Willis McGahee. He turned in a gutty performance a week ago in a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins, gaining 105 yards and scoring on a five-yard touchdown run. He produced 152 yards of total offense despite having his troublesome left knee drained prior to kickoff. The game plan will likely center on getting him plenty of carries and complementing him with fullback Le’Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice. McGahee’s health still isn’t 100 percent, but he’s feeling better these days and was upgraded to full participation in practice Thursday. Against the Dolphins, his running instincts seemed to be coming back to him with how he was reading the holes and was decisive in bursting through them.

Conditioning and health are still issues, but effort isn’t and McGahee seems to be winning the coaching staff’s confidence. Plus, the Raiders are vulnerable to be gashed with the run. They have allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers over the past three games, including the New York Jets’ Thomas Jones rumbling for 159 yards last week. For the season,

, which has a good middle linebacker in Kirk Morrison, is allowing 136.2 rushing yards per game with nine touchdown runs surrendered.

2. Can the Ravens contain Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell?

The big, young pocket passer has thrown five touchdown passes and just two interceptions and has been much more cautious with throwing into traffic than a year ago. The Ravens thrive on creating turnovers. They have scored defensive touchdowns during two of their three victories (linebacker Terrell Suggs’ interception return against the Dolphins and free safety Ed Reed’s interception return against the Cleveland Browns) and are 1-2 in the games where they didn’t score on defense. The Ravens will need to wrap up properly against Russell, a burly 6-foot-6, 260-pounder who has been sacked 14 times, but is hard to bring down. Plus, the Ravens could have as many as three starters out in the secondary: Samari Rolle (neck surgery), Dawan Landry (spinal cord concussion) and Chris McAlister (performance, discipline or his knee?). Russell has struck deep with touchdown passes of 84 and 63 yards this season.

3. Will rookie quarterback Joe Flacco secure the football?

The Raiders have created a lot of pressure with blitzes this season and have generated 16 sacks led by defensive end Kalimba Edwards’ four with defensive tackle Terdell Sands recording a career-high two sacks against the Jets. Flacco has fumbled six times this season and needs to do a better job with ball security. The no-huddle offense may prove to be the tonic to this issue. Flacco seems to be in a comfort zone with the hurry-up and the shotgun formation and didn’t commit a turnover against the Dolphins, but nearly committed three. He almost threw an interception, botched a handoff and nearly had another fumble.

4. What will Flacco do if the Raiders double-team Derrick Mason or shut him down with one cornerback?

The Raiders have good cornerbacks in DeAngelo Hall and Nmandi Asomugha, and Mason is Flacco’s favorite receiver. He leads the team with 33 catches for 418 yards. No other receiver has more than 13 receptions. Strangely, the Ravens seem reluctant to involve former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. He has caught just 11 passes for 120 yards.

5. Who will claim the field-position battle?

Ravens punter Sam Koch and Raiders punter Shane Lechler have been booming their kicks, and rank in the top four in net punt average. Lechler is averaging 48.2 yards, 41.6 net, and Koch is averaging 48.0 yards, 42.9 net. He averaged 59.0 yards, a career-high, against

, including a career-high and franchise-record tying 67-yarder. It could be a long day for punt returners.



Ravens MLB Ray Lewis vs. Raiders RB Darren McFadden

Lewis has 46 tackles, two interceptions and a sack in four career games against the Raiders. Yet, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year will be tested today by McFadden. The speedy rookie from

leads a strong Raiders running game with 341 rushing yards. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound first-round draft pick has true breakaway speed and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a 50-yard jaunt under his belt. It will be up to Lewis to match McFadden’s mobility, attack the football on the perimeter and intimidate the highly-regarded former Southeastern Conference star. Lewis has already broken Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall’s shoulder, ending his season.


Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Raiders CB DeAngelo Hall

Hall is experiencing a career resurgence after washing out with the Atlanta Falcons, intercepting a team-high three passes. An athletic, gambling defensive back, Hall thrives on taking chances. Sometimes, it backfires. Hall isn’t nearly as careful or imposing as his counterpart, Nmandi Asomugha, the Raiders’ franchise player. In seven career games against

, Mason has caught 36 passes for 454 yards and two touchdowns. In a 2003 contest, he caught 10 passes against the Raiders. His 25 first downs against

are his fourth-most against any NFL team. Mason has established himself as rookie quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite receiver, catching 33 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown.


Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason

1. On Raiders cornerback Nmandi Asomugha: "They do a good job of putting him on one guy and trying to shut down one side of the field. I think he had close to double-digit interceptions last year. When you do that, people tend to stay away from you. And he’s playing very good this year.

"So he singles up on one guy, whether it be they match him up or he just takes one side, and he’s been very good at minimizing the catches on the other side. I think he probably only has two or three completions on him this whole season, and that’s phenomenal considering the way this league is going now as far as passing. DeAngelo Hall, he’s not a slouch either."

2. On the no-huddle with Joe Flacco: “I think Joe is very comfortable with the no-huddle. Not too many young quarterbacks are comfortable in that situation. I think Joe thrives in that situation. So if your quarterback is comfortable and your offensive line is comfortable, then you’re going to move the ball.

"Anytime you go more than three, four, or five plays against the defense, you kind of wear them out with that no-huddle. That’s what we tried to do last week, just get on the ball and stay on the ball and put the pressure on the defense. That’s why it was so effective for us last week."

3. On how Willis McGahee boosts the offense: "It makes us very unpredictable. When Willis is running the ball the way he’s running it, they can’t kill just one thing. Now, not only do they have to stop the run, they’ve got to concentrate on stopping the run. Then you get the pass. Then they don’t know what we’re doing.

"At least in

, the way Willis was running, they didn’t understand if we were going to throw it on first down or run it on first down; throw it on third down or run on third down because of the way Willis and the line and the regulars were running the ball. Hopefully, we can be in that same position this week."


Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall

1. On how

has performed in going 2-4: "Thus far? A little bit below average. I think the record kind of indicates that. But we’re just starting to get rolling a little bit. We’ve got Tom Cable in here now. He definitely has a vision for us. He’s a fiery coach, getting us going, and the guys are following behind him.

"His attitude, his attention to detail, the way he holds everybody accountable, that’s probably the biggest thing. Everybody’s held accountable for their actions, whether it’s on the field, whether it’s off the field, whether it’s not making a play, making a play you’re supposed to make. Guys are responding."

2. On defending rookie quarterback Joe Flacco: "Joe has been out there making some plays. He is a rookie, has a lot to learn still, but he has a lot of weapons over there to help him do that. They’re playing pretty good football, great defense as well.

"So we’re kind of in the same situation as

. Our defense hasn’t been playing as good as theirs, but we’ve got a young quarterback back here, too, that we’re trying to protect, trying to nurture and put him in a position to make plays.”

3. On wide receiver Derrick Mason: "I compare him and Joey Galloway. They’re the same fine wine, it seems like they get better with age. Derrick Mason gets in and out of those breaks better now than he did back in the day.

"The way D-Mason takes care of his self, his body, his work ethic, I actually remember going against him my rookie year when he was in Tennessee. I’ve been a fan of his ever since I was a kid. I’m only 24 years old, so I can remember D-Mason at the top of his game. He’s not far off."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran


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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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