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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The details may differ, but the Ravens and the Oakland Raiders find themselves in a very similar position.

Both have lost two straight and are in danger of losing ground to the leaders in their respective divisions. The Baltimore defense and the Raiders offense were expected to be elite units, but each has underperformed so far this season, contributing to the overall struggles for both teams.

The most intriguing story entering Sunday might be the status of Oakland starting quarterback Derek Carr, who surprisingly practiced on Thursday and Friday and was listed as questionable on the final injury report despite having suffered a fracture in his lower back last week. It’s still assumed that backup EJ Manuel will start in his place, but Carr was reportedly taking Friday practice reps ahead of No. 3 quarterback Connor Cook, perhaps an indication that he could at least serve as the backup in Week 5.

His availability would certainly change expectations in this contest as Carr has thrown for 550 yards and seven touchdowns in his two games against the Ravens.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the third consecutive season with the Raiders having won the last two meetings including a last-minute 28-27 win at M&T Bank Stadium last October. Baltimore holds a 6-3 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and won the only playoff encounter in the 2000 AFC championship game. The Ravens’ last win at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum came in Week 17 of the 2009 season when they clinched a trip to the playoffs.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Joe Flacco will throw an interception for the 11th consecutive game. What we’re seeing from the 10th-year quarterback is his own regression magnified by a lack of commitment to improve the variables around him for years. Not only as he tossed picks in 10 straight games, but he’s thrown at least one in 13 of 15 games with Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator and 23 of 30 with him as the quarterbacks coach, a stretch that followed the best regular season of his career in 2014. Suspect coaching, an injury-ravaged offensive line that wasn’t very good to begin with, average skill-position players, and Flacco’s own weaknesses result in a broken offense.

2. Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree will continue his recent success against the Ravens with a touchdown catch. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both expected to play despite missing practice time this week, but the secondary will need to be ready as Crabtree has produced four touchdowns and 199 receiving yards in his last two games against Baltimore. The Ravens front must generate more pressure than it has the last two weeks to force Manuel into mistakes in the pocket as he’ll likely be looking for Crabtree and tight end Jared Cook as his security blankets. With former first-round pick Amari Cooper struggling to catch the ball consistently, Crabtree is a big key to the Raiders’ success.

3. Alex Collins will run for a season-high 85 yards and a touchdown — without a fumble. It speaks volumes about the Ravens that a street free agent signed to the practice squad in early September has been their best offensive playmaker, but that doesn’t mean that Collins hasn’t impressed with an 8.2 yards per carry average. Head coach John Harbaugh has bristled over his two fumbles on 25 carries, but this struggling offense has little choice but to continue giving him the ball while hoping that running backs coach Thomas Hammock can help rectify the issue. The Ravens offensive line has done a solid job in run blocking and should find room against an Oakland front allowing 4.3 yards per carry.

4. Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack will collect two sacks and force a fumble. After having a brutal day against Jacksonville edge rusher Dante Fowler in London two weeks ago, right tackle Austin Howard is really going to have his hands full with his former teammate, who is one of the NFL’s best defensive players. Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. likes to move Mack around to create matchup problems, meaning left tackle Ronnie Stanley will also need to be ready. As if Mack weren’t enough, defensive end Mario Edwards also creates problems as an interior rusher on passing downs and it’s no secret that the Ravens have struggled mightily at the guard position without Marshal Yanda.

5. The Ravens offense fails to score 14 points for the third straight game in a 19-13 loss. I fully expect the run defense to bounce back after a poor performance last week, but the Ravens will have trouble generating pressure against Pro Football Focus’ most efficient pass-blocking line in the league, which will limit their opportunities for takeaways to put the offense on a short field. Since a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in the season opener, Flacco hasn’t completed a single pass for even half as much yardage as that in 105 attempts. That’s simply not a winning formula, especially on the West Coast where Baltimore hasn’t fared well in recent years. Until this offense shows otherwise, the Ravens aren’t a good bet to win any road game — even one against a backup quarterback.

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Ravens, Raiders both trying to make statement on Sunday

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and the Oakland Raiders are both trying to prove they belong among the AFC’s contenders.

Despite a 3-0 start, the Ravens have beaten three below-average opponents by only a combined 13 points and are still trying to shake any lingering odor from a 5-11 campaign a year ago. Meanwhile, 2-1 Oakland has two road wins and was a sexy pick to make the playoffs despite lacking a winning season since 2002, but the league’s 32nd-ranked defense hasn’t inspired much confidence through three weeks.

Sunday’s featured matchup will be Baltimore’s second-ranked defense taking on the Raiders’ No. 2 offense. Something will have to give.

“You hear the numbers; there is no shying away from that,” inside linebacker Zach Orr said. “They are definitely top two or top three in the league offensively. It will be a great challenge to see where we stack up. Statistically, we are one of the top defenses in the league right now. It will be a great battle.”

The Ravens must avoid a repeat of last year when quarterback Derek Carr threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-33 win for Oakland, but this defense looks and feels different in 2016. After collecting only six interceptions all last season, Baltimore has five in its first three games, a few coming at critical junctures of close games.

Slowing the talented receiver combination of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree won’t be easy, but the Ravens are now faster, healthier, and smarter on defense. Welcoming back five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will also help a pass rush that’s been disruptive inside but could use another impact rusher off the edge opposite 14th-year veteran Terrell Suggs.

“We kind of got the deck stacked,” said Suggs, who is tied with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan for the team lead with three sacks. “We have all our guys back. We have all our working parts. We get another guy back this week. That is going to help us out. I think everybody is just committed to getting better every week, and that is huge for us.”

Getting better will be critical for a Baltimore offense that’s managed only four touchdowns in three games and currently ranks 25th in the NFL in total yards and 24th in points per game. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game have shined at times, but the aerial attack has too often been bogged down by a running game averaging a meager 3.3 yards per carry.

The anticipated absence of rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley makes for an uncomfortable matchup with Oakland defensive end and 2015 Pro Bowl selection Khalil Mack, but the Ravens still couldn’t ask for a much better matchup to finally get their offense rolling, especially playing at home for the first time since Week 1. Knowing there’s a talented offense on the other side, Baltimore will need to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals as has often been the case over the first three weeks.

The Ravens keep saying they’re close to breaking out offensively. It needs to come against one of the worst defenses in the league so far this season.

“We feel like we are ready to burst onto the scene,” Flacco said. “We have a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys catching passes. I think if we get our run game going a little bit and clean up the little things like penalties, some drops and a couple missed throws —  stuff like that — I think we will be going.”

Sunday represents Baltimore’s greatest challenge to date as Oakland has more talent than any of the first three opponents of 2016. A win gives the Ravens their best start in the John Harbaugh era and provides further validation for a return to being a dangerous team in the AFC after a one-year hiatus.

Of course, a loss doesn’t decide anything just a quarter of the way through the season, but it would give ammunition to the critics doubting just how good the Ravens really are after a soft schedule the first three weeks.

This one should be fun as both teams have something to prove.

“It is going to be a great matchup, a great game, and physical,” safety Eric Weddle said. “You have to have your ‘big-boy’ pads on and get ready for it.”

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