The Oakland Raiders fly east to visit the Baltimore Ravens with both teams coming off of impressive victories last week. The Raiders defeated the NY Jets in OT 16-13, on a 57 yard FG by Sebastian Janikowski. The Ravens won a rare road game with a resounding 27-13 defeat of the Miami Dolphins. Today, they face each other, with similar styles and high expectations of a win.
Both teams focus their offense on their running game. The Raiders rely on rookie Darren McFadden and veteran Justin Fargas to provide the offense, with second year QB JaMarcus Russell throwing when he needs to but not relying on him to carry the team. Similarly, the Ravens hand off mostly to Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain, and hope roookie QB Joe Flacco doesn't need to throw too many times and bring the team back from behind.
Earlier this week I blogged about how to beat the Raiders. Check out Thursday's post to read how I broke it down. It's safe to say I don't expect the Raiders to have much success on the ground against the NFL's #1 run defense. Therefore, in order to win, Oakland will need to rely on the passing game, which I just don't see JaMarcus having a career day on the road against us to get the job done. The big key then comes down to how their defense contains our running game, forcing us to be in the same position of having to win the game by passing our way to victory. If that happens, then it becomes even simpler to figure out the keys to the game. It then comes down to who wins the turnover battle and Special Teams. I expect these two challlenged offenses to turn the ball over more than a few times between them, so the winner of the TO battle should win the field position contest and be in position for easier scoring chances.
Special Teams will be another key to victory, as this also connects to the field position issue. Oakland's Special Teams has been very good, while the Ravens has been inconsistent, bordering on disappointing. One or two takeaways and a Special Teams TD, and the tide of the game can turn one way or the other pretty quickly, even to the point of deciding the outcome.
Of course, I have a hard time seeing the Raiders' defense outplaying the Ravens' defense. Even if they win the Special Teams battle of field position, I still expect our team to step up, take care of business and defend our home turf. The defense may bend but won't break and with the run stopped, the Raiders will not be able to rely on the pass game to move the ball without the result being the turnovers the Ravens feast on. Conversely, I see the Ravens running game taking charge, especially in the second half when the Ravens begin to wear down the Raiders front line and push them backwards for huge gains, consuming the yardage and timeclock. This will open up the passing game, which was impressive last week with Flacco earning his career high in yardage and QB rating. The inclusion in the offense's gameplan of tight end Todd Heap was a welcome addition and it's continuance will only help open up the passing lanes.
Finally, the home field advantage will be a huge lift to the Ravens, who go on the road for the next three games after this one. The Ravens always seem to play better in front of their fans and usually don't disappoint (other than the Titans' game!). Expecting the Raiders to fly east to beat up a team with one of the top two defenses in the league will be a tall task for Oakland to accomplish. I just can't see it happening, as the Ravens win their second in a row, and then head on the road, with the first stop a return engagement in Cleveland, bringing with them a victory today and a 4-3 record.