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NFL Preview - Baltimore (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - After establishing themselves as serious Super Bowl contenders with a convincing season-opening victory, the Baltimore Ravens left the door open for their doubters following a disappointing loss last weekend.
History says they'll rebound just fine.
The Ravens have won their last eight games following a loss and look to keep that trend going this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome against a St. Louis Rams club that is off to its fifth straight 0-2 start.
Baltimore got its season off on the right foot with a 35-7 victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers back in Week 1, forcing seven turnovers while not giving the ball away once in the win. That wasn't the case versus the Tennessee Titans this past weekend, however, with Joe Flacco getting picked off twice and Ricky Williams losing a fumble in a 26-13 defeat.
A Billy Cundiff field goal was the only points the Ravens managed in the second half, as the team was outscored 16-3 while holding the ball on offense for 12 less minutes than Tennessee overall.
A rebound effort could be forthcoming, given that Baltimore is 12-4 under head coach John Harbaugh following a loss. Flacco also expects his team to perform much better this Sunday.
"You have got to go out there and prepare, just like we did this week," Flacco said following the loss to the Titans. "We prepared to come out here and win this game. We had a really good week of practice. We have got to go do the same this week and go into St. Louis and be ready to play. We have got a really good team in there and if we didn't respond well to this, I would be pretty disappointed in our guys and myself for letting that happen. I think we are better than that."
The Rams will hope that the Ravens' struggles last another week as they try to avoid a third straight loss to begin the year. St. Louis entered the season with high hopes in a wide-open NFC West, but have lost games to the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants by a combined margin of 30 points.
In the spotlight with a Monday night game at New York, the Rams struggled to score points and committed some costly errors in a 28-16 defeat. The biggest may have come with 10:58 left in the first half, when quarterback Sam Bradford's attempted screen to running back Cadillac Williams was dropped. The Giants' Michael Boley alertly picked up the ball and raced 65 yards for a touchdown.
Williams got the start in place of Steven Jackson, who suffered a quadriceps injury during a Week 1 loss to the Eagles and was ruled out before kickoff. There is a chance he could be back for this game as he is day-to-day, though he's continued to be held out of practice this week.
His return won't help a St. Louis defense that has struggled in giving up yards and keeping opponents off the board this season. After turning the corner a year ago, the Rams are in danger of reverting back to the 2009 form that saw them lose their first eight games of the season.
"We're certainly not where we want to be record-wise or performance-wise," head coach Steve Spagnuolo said Tuesday. "We've always said this, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. You can only use that saying for so long because then you start running out of games, but that is true at this particular point."
The Rams are likely to go with a no-huddle offense again this weekend, one that gave the Giants' defense issues. New York safety Deon Grant was accused of faking an injury during a Rams drive in the first quarter to slow down the hurry-up scheme. Afterward, Spagnuolo notified the NFL he thought the Giants were faking injuries, and the league issued a memo on Wednesday warning teams about such a practice.
Harbaugh said his team will prepare for St. Louis to use the no-huddle approach again.
"We talked about that." he said. "That's going to be a big part of it, especially with the crowd noise and all that stuff. It's something they've done both games so far, and they've done it really well. So, the ability just to get the communication done and get [the defense] lined up, all those things are going to be really important."
The Ravens and Rams have split four lifetime regular-season meetings, with Baltimore drawing even by virtue of a 22-3 rout at M&T Bank Stadium in 2007. St. Louis had won the previous two matchups between the teams, both of which took place at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams recorded a 27-10 home victory over Baltimore in 1999, as well as a 33-22 triumph in the Gateway City in 2003.
Spagnuolo and Harbaugh will be facing one another, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches, though the two do have a significant shared history. Both served as assistants on Andy Reid's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles between 1999-2006.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
After playing to near perfection versus the Steelers, Flacco (421 passing yards, 4 TD) struggled against the Titans' secondary. He completed 15-of-32 pass attempts for only 197 yards, though he did connect with running back Ray Rice for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Rice (150 rushing yards, 9 receptions, 3 total TD) continues to be a dual threat, as he led the Ravens in receiving and rushing last week, hauling in five passes for 31 yards while adding another 43 on the ground. He could get a few more targets in this game given that David Reed is expected to be out for three weeks due to a shoulder injury, while fellow wide receiver Lee Evans (2 receptions) could sit out due to an ankle ailment. The loss of Evans could also leave less room for No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin (7 receptions, 1 TD) on the field. Flacco, though, continues to look towards his two tight end threats of Ed Dickson (7 receptions, 1 TD) and Dennis Pitta (4 receptions), who saw a combined nine targets on Sunday. Left guard Ben Grubbs is questionable to return for Sunday's game after missing last week with a toe injury.
The Rams will try to get pressure on Flacco after sacking Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times and picking him off once on Monday. Defensive end Chris Long (5 tackles) notched a sack for a second straight week, while fellow end James Hall (6 tackles) had his first of the season. Long now has a sack in nine of his last 13 games. Rookie end Robert Quinn also took down Manning, while safety Quintin Mikell (11 tackles, 1 sack) came up with the Rams' first pick of the year. While the Rams did a decent job of limiting Manning to 200 yards despite a pair of touchdown passes, the run defense was tagged for 119 yards on 38 carries and also allowed a New York touchdown on the ground. Linebacker and leading tackler James Laurinaitis (20 tackles) will be keeping his eye on Rice after making 14 tackles last week, while corner Justin King (16 tackles, 1 sack) added nine stops and Mikell made seven. Both linebacker Ben Leber (6 tackles) and defensive end C.J. Ah You are questionable because of a groin and wrist injury, respectively.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
After falling behind early in the first half against the Giants, Bradford (519 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT) was forced to attempt a total of 46 pass attempts, completing 22 of them for a career-high 331 yards. He put up the game's final points with a 19-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter to wide receiver Danario Alexander, who had a game-high 122 yards on three receptions -- though he was targeted seven times. Wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (7 receptions) led the club with six catches for 92 yards on Monday after a quiet debut, while both Brandon Gibson (7 receptions) and Greg Salas (5 receptions) had four grabs. In addition to being without Jackson (56 rushing yards, 1 TD), Bradford did not have wide receiver Danny Amendola (5 receptions) because of a dislocated left elbow that currently has him day-to-day. If Jackson can't go again, Williams (127 rushing yards, 8 receptions) will get another start after posting 36 yards on 13 carries. He is also battling a hamstring issue of his own, while the rookie Salas has a rib injury and fumbled twice versus the Giants, losing one of them.
After handling the Steelers' offense in Week 1, the Ravens yielded 432 yards of offense to the Titans last weekend. Only 53 of those came from dangerous running back Chris Johnson, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 30 passes for 358 yards and wide receiver Kenny Britt grabbed nine balls for 135 yards. It isn't surprising that Tennessee attacked Baltimore's secondary, given it was without a pair of corners in Chris Carr and rookie Jimmy Smith. Carr is questionable this week with a hamstring issue, while Smith remains out with a high ankle sprain. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (10 tackles) made six tackles versus the Titans and signed a new five-year contract with the club on Tuesday. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (8 tackles, 3 sacks) is used to putting quarterbacks on the ground, but he came up with an interception of Hasselbeck, while corner Lardarius Webb (21 tackles) led the way with 10 tackles in last Sunday's loss. Bradford will need to know where linebacker Ray Lewis (15 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Ed Reed (14 tackles, 2 INT) are on Sunday after the talented duo combined to make eight tackles each last week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Boldin could be the x-factor for the Ravens offense given his history with the Rams. The former Cardinals wideout has six 100-yard receiving games in 12 career meetings with St. Louis while totaling 76 receptions, 1,064 receiving yards and six touchdowns over that stretch.
Though missing Jackson may have figured into this, the Rams went just 1-for-4 in the red zone against the Giants and had to settle for a field goal despite having a first down on the one-yard line on their first possession of the game. St. Louis can't afford to give away points again in this game.
The Ravens have preyed on the NFC under Harbaugh since 2008, averaging 27.7 points per game against the conference. Baltimore scored 26.3 points per game in four matchups versus the NFC a season ago.
The Rams' tough opening to the season gets a little more difficult thanks to the disappointing loss the Ravens suffered a week ago. After a pair of games against two tough NFC East residents, St. Louis must now battle a talented Baltimore club that is sure to be focused and ready to avoid another letdown. The Rams were looking to steal a game over its brutal three-game opening stretch before a road date against the Redskins on Oct. 2, but that isn't likely to happen now. Expect Flacco and Rice to put up big numbers and the Ravens defense to make life tough for Bradford yet again.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 21, Rams 13
09/22 15:39:18 ET