After unexpectedly receiving an early Bye week and more time to rest, get healthy and prepare for the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens are restless and ready to play this weekend. By ready, I mean that their team is probably healthier than they have been since the 2006 season. Their offensive line is all back and all five starters plus newly acquired former All Pro Willie Anderson have looked good in practice and performed well in game one.
The biggest injury concerns have centered on the defense, and most specifically the secondary. However, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Corey Ivy and Samari Rolle were not listed on the most recently released injury report. It looks like Fabian Washington, with a bulging disk in his neck, is the only one in danger of missing this week's game. On the defensive line, Trevor Pryce is not on the injury report and Kelly Gregg, who missed the first game, hopes to play as well, although relacement Justin Bannan was a serviceable replacement against Cincinnati.
This is great news for the Ravens and their fans. It will be a refreshing pleasure to see what we fans have always thought was the best defense in the league the past few years all on the field at the same time for the first time since, well...a long, long time. When the defense was injured, the Ravens were very pedestrian, meaning average or worse, as it showed throughout most of last season. However, when healthy, they are among, if not the most feared defense in the entire NFL, and they should be expected to perform at that level come this Sunday. If so, then my prediction on Sunday morning will make most Ravens fans happy, as it will mirror my game-by-game predictions I made on this blog earlier this summer.
Offensively, running back Willis McGahee is not listed on that injury report either, and will team with rookie Ray Rice, fullbacks Le'Ron McClain and Lorenzo Neal to pound the ball at the center of Cleveland's huge defensive line, anchored by newly acquired behemoth Shaun Rogers. However, when necessary, the Ravens will unleash rookie QB Joe Flacco to make short, accurate passes and perhaps even mix in another surprising scramble or trick play once in a while. Flacco has had the luxury of an extra week of practice, taking all the snaps and learning more of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's playbook. It also looks like Troy Smith has recovered enough from his rare tonsil infection, in which he lost 20 pounds, to begin working out and start his comeback. Meanwhile second string QB Todd Bouman continues to get up to speed in his knowledge of the Ravens' system in the hopefully unlikely event he is needed on the field.
All in all, it is shaping up to be a great opportunity for Baltimore to exorcise their Cleveland demons, who haunted them with two victories over the Ravens last ear, as the combination of our return to health and home field advantage should triumph over the Browns slow start and injuries come this Sunday afternoon.