After watching the Ravens win three games against what is considered mediocre teams (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami), while losing three games against tougher opponents (Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Indianapolis), do the Oakland Raiders fit in to the former or latter grouping? Based on their record and stats so far in 2008, you'd have to undoubtedly put them into the mediocre group and therefore expect the Ravens to come away with a victory this Sunday at home.
However, if you expect the Raiders to roll over and let the Ravens make it an easy victory, you've not been watching what has happened in the NFL so far this season. There have been so many upsets, that most every 'Last Man Standing (Suicide) Pool' is almost over! The Ravens beat a resurgent Miami Dolphins team by sticking to their gameplan and playing error free ball. If they do the same this week, the result should be the same as well. However, how do we stack up against them on both offense and defense? Without Miami's ability to stop our running atttack, we would not have been able to control the ball and the clock like we did. Will Oakland cooperate in the same way? Let's take a look.
The Raiders offense is only marginally better than the Ravens, ranking 23rd overall, compared to Baltimore's 26th ranking. The Raiders have earned their success on the ground, and that plays right into the Ravens' strength. JaMarcus Russell is hitting on just over 50% of his passes, with five TD's and two interceptions. While he is a big, physical presence behind center, he has not used it to run the ball, never gaining more than 11 yrds per game on the ground. He's been sacked 14 times and has a 76.0 QB rating. Conversely, the Ravens' Joe Flacco has completed just over 64% of his passes for two TD's and seven interceptions, with 12 sacks and a 68.8 QB rating. Not a huge difference between two guys on teams that rely heavily on the run game for their success.
As far as the running attacks, the Raiders have employed a two prong attack, with both Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas enjoying success. The rookie McFadden, however, is the star, averaging over five yards a carry, with one TD. Surprisingly, no Raider has scored more than one TD all season. Once again, this plays right into the Ravens defense's hands. Expect Baltimore to slow, if not shut down the Raiders rushing attack, forcing them into passing situations much more often than they will feel comfortable. Blitz Russell on every down and force him to make the play. Don't forget to keep a defender around the line of scrimmage to make sure he doesn't try to scramble or check down to the short, quick, hot read. Defensively, the Ravens should be able to derail the Raiders offense and keep them from putting much more than some long field goals on the board, off the foot of Sebastian Janikowski, who is already 13 of 17 in FG attempts, with two of over 50 yards, including the game winning 57 yarder in OT last week to beat the NY Jets.
So then it would appear that the game will fall to the Ravens if they can move the ball in the same manner they did last week in Miami. The Ravens oiffense may be low ranked, but while their defense is rated #2 (#1 against the run), the Raiders defense is rated 26th overall, giving up 360 yards per game, almost 120 more than the Ravens. Oakland surrenders an average of 136 yards on the ground each game, allowing just over 24 points to their opponents. If the Ravens can put up 24 on Oakland, then this game will be in the bag as a win. However, we know if will also depend on who wins the turnover battle. If the Ravens play relatively mistake free football on offense and their opportunistic defense capitalizes on Oakland turnovers, then this will only aid us in getting the "W."
Statistically, this looks like a Ravens victory on paper. But we all know and have seen this season that the games are definitely not played on paper. However, I expect these statistics to play out, as the Ravens have proven to be a much tougher team at home, and for the Raiders to travel across the country and beat an excellent defense on the road is a little too much for even the negative thinking Ravens fans to expect. Let's just hope the stats play out to the game itself.
We shall see.