Sunday Match-Up: Baltimore @ Oakland

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Wishing our readers a Happy New Year!!!

A Must Win!

After coming off a frustrating loss to the Steelers, the Ravens (8-7) travel Oakland to take on the Raiders (5-10). With a win the team can seal a Wild-Card spot and head to the Playoffs. This past game the Ravens had golden opportunities but they were derailed by miscues and penalties. They need to clean up these miscues and take care of business. The team will also need to put the disappointment of a loss behind them and be prepared to play a competitive Oakland team. The Raiders will be motivated playing their final home game and have plans to upset the Ravens playoff hopes. There is no love loss; in their Super Bowl run the Ravens traveled to Oakland and won—the fans will be fired up for this one.

The Raiders

Oakland is inconsistent, yet dangerous. Of their five wins, four have been upsets beating Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Denver and Pittsburg. This is a sign that the team is turning the corner and cannot be taken lightly.

OFFENSE: The quarterback postion has been a sore subject in Oakland due to inconsistency. First it was JaMarcus Russell who played for a number of weeks but was erratic. Russell was benched and Bruce Gradkowski started and led the team to an upset win over the Steelers. However, Gradkowski suffered an injury and Charlie Frye took over. Charlie Frye, who once played for Cleveland, has been biding his time to become a starter in the NFL.   Frye brings some mobility along with some experience to the position.  Finding consistency in the passing game has not been a strong suit as they are ranked 31st in passing yards averaging around 141 yards a game.  Against the Browns, Frye was 26/45 and threw for 333 yards and had 3 interceptions.  The offensive line has been decent at run blocking but struggled in pass protection—they have given up 44 sacks. Some of the sacks were due to QB Russell’s inability to recognize pressure.

Oakland has their own version of the three-headed monster with running backs with Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and Michael Bush. Bush is a strong runner and has had a few good games. McFadden has missed some time with an injury; however he is a talented back and has returned to the line-up.  Bush has 550 yards rushing and is averaging 5.0 per carry. Fargas is a powerful runner with 500 yards rushing averaging 3.8 yards per carry. McFadden and Bush are also good receivers out of the backfield.

At the Tight end position Zack Miller has emerged as a solid receiver and leads the team with 59 receptions for 767 yards and averages 13.0 yards per catch. Rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Univ. of Maryland) has break away speed. They mostly spread the ball around to Chad Schilens and rookie Louis Murphy. Murphy has been a great addition to the receiving core.  Though Murphy has only 28 receptions he averages 16 yards per catch with 4 TD’s.

Lately: The unit ranks 31st in points scored at 14.1 points per game. However, timing is everything and the offense has moved the ball when it had to late in games to pull out a few victories. With Running back McFadden back in the line-up that should add some spark to the offense.

DEFENSE: The unit ranks 29 in the league against the run, allowing 149 rushing yards per game. They rank 15th against the pass, allowing 221 yards per game. In a trade this year with the Patriots the team landed DE Richard Seymour who is an excellent player.  DE Greg Ellis has 7 sacks and DE rookie Matt Shaughnessy has 4 sacks.  Middle Linebacker Kirk Morrison has over 123 combined tackles.  OLB Thomas Howard stays busy too with over 76 combined tackles. OLB Trevor Scott has 6 sacks.

The secondary features Cornerback Nnamdi Asmugha who is and excellent cornerback—excels in man-to-man coverage. Asmugha was just voted to the Pro-Bowl this year. Strong Safety Tyone Branch has over 121 combined tackles. Branch is aggressive in the secondary and at the line of scrimmage against the run.  Any team playing this secondary has to account for these players.

Lately: The Defense has some playmakers with DE Seymour, DE Ellis, CB Asmugha and MLB Morrison. Though statistically not great, they have the talent to compete and are playing better as a whole the last 6 games. This year the unit shut down the Eagles and has helped their team stay close in games where they pulled some big upsets.

MATCH-UPS: Chalk It Up!

Ravens offensive game plan: While Oakland is playing much better the unit still has problems defending the run. Expect Ray Rice to get a lot of carries. Flacco and company must be wary of CB Asmugha and SS Branch. Keys: Run the Ball! In seven games the Raiders have allowed over 100 yards to the opposing starting running back.

Ravens O-line: Jared Gaither has been out with an injury and Oher has filled in the at the left tackle position.  Right Tackel Oneil Cousins got beat many times and was called for a personal foul that took the team out of scoring position.  You might see the Ravens go with Yanda at right tackle for this game.

Keys: Slowing down the pass rush of DE Richard Seymour & DE Greg Ellis.

Ray Rice vs. MLB Kirk Morrison: Expect Rice and company to be busy. Rice ran well and was exceptionally physical against the Steelers. Middle Linebacker Morrison leads the team with tackles.

Ravens defensive game plan: QB Charlie Frye will make only his third start of the season and the defense must make him uncomfortable with a few extra blitz packages. Frye had 3 interceptions in his last game.

Keys: Getting pressure on QB Frye. LB Antwan Barnes seems to always get pressure on the QB when in the game—his skills should be utilized. The Raiders do have talent at the running back position and the defense must expect a heavy dose of the running game.

OLB Terrell Suggs vs. O-line: The Raiders offensive line has given up 44 sacks. In two starts Frye has been sacked 4 times and has 4 interceptions.

WR Louis Murphy, Heyward-Bey & Chad Schilens vs. Secondary: Rookie Darrius Heyward-Bay is an explosive player but the Ravens will also turn their attention to rookie receiver Louis Murphy. The Secondary played decent last game and will be challenged again as the Raiders have three good receivers. CB Walker, CB Foxworth and CB Carr will have their hands full. Key: Minimize the big passing plays. There is a possibility that Saftey Ed Reed May be back in the line-up.

Containing TE Zach Miller: The Raiders do spread the ball around to their receivers, but they count on their Tight end Zach Miller who is their leading receiver.  Containment on TE Miller must be a priority.

Special Teams: Punter Shane Lechler is an excellent punter with an average of 51 yards per punt. Field position is important on the road and the Ravens need to focus on blocking in the return game. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made a 61-yard field in last week’s game against the Browns.  Return Game Boost: The Ravens running back Jalen Parmele did a good job in kick returns against the Steelers. If Parmele can stay consistent it may help fill the void left by rookie Lardarius Webb.

Battle of Penalties: The Ravens had 11 penalties for 113 yards in their last game. The Raiders had 13 penalties for 126 yards in their last game. To be a serious contender the Ravens must is eliminate mental mistakes and costly penalties. The veterans on the team will need to step up, assert themselves, and lead this team in the right direction.

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