Looking to win their 15th straight regular-season game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens welcome the Oakland Raiders to Baltimore on Sunday.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 6-1 all-time against Oakland in the regular season …
1. Ray Rice will receive his 20 carries, but he won’t have a Martin-esque game against the Raiders. Oakland’s 22nd-ranked run defense has been under fire after allowing Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin to rush for 251 yards last week, but the Raiders entered Week 9 allowing an average of 102.1 yards per game on the ground, which would rank 11th in the league right now. Rice may eclipse the century mark, but the Ravens aren’t going to go run-happy based solely on what happened against Oakland last week and will give quarterback Joe Flacco plenty of opportunities using play-action fakes against a group that might overcompensate to defend the run. Overall, the Raiders will sure up their tackling woes from a week ago to put forth a better showing against Rice.
2. Carson Palmer will throw it 50 times against the Baltimore defense. Much has been made about the injuries to Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, but the Raiders have ranked 31st in the league in rushing yards per attempt (3.6) with those running backs this season. Even against the Ravens’ porous run defense, Palmer will try to throw his way to victory against a pass rush that’s provided little punch (13 sacks). Projected starting running back Taiwan Jones won’t be much of a factor on Sunday, but he won’t receive the opportunity to be one as the former Bengals quarterback will be icing down his shoulder after the game.
3. The Ravens will score a defensive touchdown. The Raiders will have success through the air as Baltimore won’t be able to make Palmer uncomfortable in the pocket consistently, but the Ravens will find an opportunity to cash in against a one-dimensional offense at some point in the second half. I’ll go out on a limb and predict Jimmy Smith will collect the first “pick-6″ of his career as the law of averages suggests Palmer will give one back to the Ravens if he throws as much as everyone anticipates.
4. It will be a big day for tight ends for both teams. Raiders tight end Brandon Myers leads his team with 39 receptions, and Baltimore linebackers have struggled to cover tight ends this year. With safeties trying to provide help over the top against Oakland’s speedy receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Myers should find plenty of openings underneath. Meanwhile, coach John Harbaugh expressed a desire for the tight ends to be more productive and Dennis Pitta said this week he would like to see more opportunities for him and Ed Dickson. The Oakland defense hasn’t had a great deal of difficulty against tight ends this season, but expect offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to implement play-action fakes to get Pitta and Dickson on track to start the second half of the schedule.
5. Baltimore improves to 7-2 with a 34-20 victory over the Raiders to complete the junior varsity portion of the schedule. The Raiders are missing their top two running backs, are traveling to the East Coast to play a 10:00 a.m. game on their regular clocks, and aren’t a good football team anyway. The Baltimore offense has been an elite group in home games this season (32.25 points per game) and faces an underwhelming defense missing veteran defensive tackle Richard Seymour. The Ravens could start slowly if they’re guilty of looking ahead to next week’s meeting with the Steelers, but they’ll ultimately take care of business against Oakland in a fairly comfortable fashion. The schedule gets much more uncomfortable from here as the Ravens will have five of their last seven games against 2011 playoff teams.