OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens’ veteran wide receivers practically have cleats older than the New England Patriots’ relatively green secondary.
All of the Ravens’ top three receivers have been to the Pro Bowl at least once.
All are at least 30 years old.
Between Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, they have a combined three decades and two years of NFL experience.
Conversely, Patriots starting cornerbacks Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty are in their second and first seasons, respectively. And starting safeties Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather are in their second and fourth seasons.
“Yeah, they’re young, but any team that plays young guys is playing them because they bring a lot of athleticism and talent,” Houshmandzadeh said. “The only way to get experience is to play. When I watch them, they’re talented for sure.
“I don’t think they play bad, not in my opinion. They might get themselves out of position more so than just playing bad or getting beat. It’s assignments more than talent. Being you, sometimes you think you see something and you don’t.”
The Patriots are in transition on defense, getting younger each year with new players in the secondary.
They’re ranked 28th in passing defense, allowing 272.3 passing yards per game.
However, the Patriots have intercepted seven passes.
“They may be young, but they’ve got a very good coach in Bill Belichick,” Mason said.
“Obviously, they’re doing something good. They’re forcing turnovers. Anytime you’re getting turnovers, you’re doing something right on the back end. They’re playing hard. They might be young, but they’re doing what the coaches are asking them to do.”
This shapes up as a classic matchup between the Ravens’ practiced professionals and a young defense that’s learning on the job.
“They have the talent minus the experience,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I think we have the talented and the experience because we’ve all played. The only way to get that experience is to get out there.”
The Ravens are particularly impressed with Chung, a 5-foot-11, 212-pound former University of Oregon standout who leads the Patriots with two interceptions and has returned one for a touchdown.
He’s also a special-teams force.
“I remember in the scouting meetings and just listening to our guys, they talked highly of him when he was coming out in the draft, so we have a high opinion of him as an organization,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “You can’t help but love his athletic ability. He’s a playmaker. He was a good player coming out of college, and he’s becoming a good player in the NFL, and I’m sure he’ll be better this week than he was even in the Miami game.”
Chung ranks second on the Patriots with 36 tackles and has deflected two passes.
“Patrick Chung, I see him all over the place,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s all over the field making plays on defense. He plays on special teams. He’s been a huge playmaker for them. They’ve got a lot of talent across the board.”
KINDLE MAKING PROGRESS: Injured rookie outside linebacker Sergio Kindle said he’s making steady progress after fracturing his skull in late July.
Kindle said his reactions and balance have improved markedly as he continues to work out at the Ravens’ training complex since signing his one-year contract and being placed on the non-football injury list.
"It’s going real well," Kindle said. "I’m just glad to be back up here with my guys and be a part of the team atmosphere. I do everything with the team besides practice. I attend meetings. I lift weights. I run, do cardio with the strength staff. When they do practice, I’m out there getting mental reps. I’m watching.”
Kindle has continued his rehabilitation work after not passing neurological and cognitive testing earlier this fall.
"I work on my reaction times and balance and things like that," Kindle said. "It’s getting better. Based on where I came from this month to last month, it’s getting a lot better. I think I could pass the tests next time."
Kindle said he’s targeting offseason minicamps for being able to take part in practice.
"My goal is whenever the [collective bargaining] agreement or whatnot is over and we get to get back out there I’ll be ready," Kindle said. "Hopefully, it doesn’t take too long."
After missing training camp and spending time in a hospital following his accident where he fell down two flights of stairs, Kindle is enjoying the camaraderie of being around the team again.
"That was my whole thing, since I wasn’t going to be able to play, I wanted to be around the fellas," Kindle said. "I wanted to be around the team atmosphere. It’s been good. The guys took me in once again with open arms.”
INJURY UPDATES: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said his sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee is improving and he feels ready for Sunday’s pivotal game against the New England Patriots.
He’s listed as questionable on the injury report.
“Pretty good movement,” Ngata said. “I got great treatment this week and was able to move around and get through practice today. It felt good, so I feel ready to go. ..
“[Thursday], did a little bit, ran through individual stuff and did some drills. Iced it up after, it felt good. [Friday] I went through the whole practice and it went really good. I think I’m ready to go.”
A terse Harbaugh didn’t want to talk about Ngata or any other injured player.
“No comment,” he said.
Cornerback Josh Wilson (strained hamstring) is questionable and could be held out depending on how he looks during warm-ups prior to kickoff.
Wilson has said he’s going to play. Harbaugh declined to comment on the player who’s atop the depth chart for kickoff returns.
Defensive end Paul Kruger (sprained left medial collateral ligament) is doubtful and isn’t going to play. He’s not expected to return until after the Ravens’ bye week. Kruger practiced one day this week on a limited basis, but wasn’t able to do much.
“Right when it happened, I just knew that I couldn’t walk and I had no idea how long the recovery was going to be,” Kruger said. “In the last week, it’s made leaps and bounds of progress.
Kruger is likely to be back for the Ravens’ Nov. 7 game against the Miami Dolphins.
“The MCL is a day to day thing,” Kruger said. “It could be completely different. Some guys can come back in a week. Some guys take six weeks. It’s just going to depend on how my body responds.”
Harbaugh declined to discuss Kruger’s status.
“Who? Paul?” he said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The following players are probable for Baltimore: running back Ray Rice (bruised right knee), linebackers Jameel McClain (knee) and Edgar Jones (bruised thigh) and fullback Le’Ron McClain (shoulder, knee) and safety Ken Hamlin (ankle).
Jameel McClain’s knee was heavily wrapped after practice, but he’s expected to play.
“My knee is perfect, perfectly wrapped,” McClain said. “I feel good. Like I said before, it’s not much that’s going to stop me from playing the game I love.”
Hamlin said his ankle feels pretty good and he expects to play Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Patriots ruled out veteran running back Fred Taylor due to a toe injury. He didn’t practice this week, so it’s not a surprising development.
Safety James Sanders (hamstring) is questionable, and quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) and cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) are probable.