Back at the .500 mark after a disappointing loss to the Titans last weekend, the Ravens head to St. Louis this weekend to take on a Rams team still in search of its first win of the season.
These two teams haven't met since 2007, when a Kyle Boller-led Ravens squad beat St. Louis 22-3 at M&T Bank Stadium. Overall, these squads have split their four all-time meetings, with the home team earning the victory in all four contests.
The Ravens have a couple positive trends working in their favor this weekend: They're 16-6 in their past 22 games against the NFC, and under head coach John Harbaugh, they're 12-4 in game that immediately follows a loss. Make of that what you will.
Here's how these two teams match up statistically:
Ravens: 307.0 yards per game (25th)
Rams: 351.0 yards per game (18th)
Ravens: 107.5 ypg (t-12th)
Rams: 106.5 ypg (14th)
Ravens: 199.5 ypg (t-25th)
Rams: 244.5 ypg (t-14th)
Ravens: 372.0 ypg (22nd)
Rams: 351.5 ypg (20th)
Ravens: 70.0 ypg (4th)
Rams: 177.5 ypg (32nd)
Ravens: 302.0 ypg (28th)
Rams: 174.0 ypg (t-4th)
Ravens: +5 (2nd)
Rams: -1 (t-19th)
Both squads are battling some major injury issues at this point, as the Ravens could be without their starting left guard in Ben Grubbs, No. 2 wide receiver in Lee Evans, kickoff returner in David Reed and talented rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith. Reed and Smith will definitely not be suiting up, while Grubbs appears doubtful and Evans might be a gametime decision.
The Rams, on the other hand, could very well be without their stud running back (Steven Jackson), backup running back (Carnell Williams) top receiver (Danny Amendola), and starting weak-side linebacker (Ben Leber).
Jackson is the key for St. Louis. When healthy, the 6-foot-2, 240-lb. beast of a running back is one of the best in the NFL, and forces defenses to key on stopping the run. Jackson injured his quad back in Week 1 on just his second carry of the season, and while he returned to practice yesterday in a limited capacity, he appears doubtful for Sunday.
If Jackson (and Williams) are out, the Rams will put their hopes squarely on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Sam Bradford, a fresh-faced 23-year-old who plays well beyond his years. Bradford has now played in three different systems in the last three years, but he hasn't let that slow him down. The 2010 No. 1 overall pick is smart, capable and poised, and has the ability to burn a beat up Baltimore secondary.
Unlike against Tennessee, the Ravens should be able to ratchet up the pressure on Bradford (St. Louis doesn't employ the West Coast get-the-football-out-quick tendencies that the Titans did last week), and if the Rams are without their playing running back(s), that should make it easier to key on the young QB.
Defensively, the Rams utilize a basic 4-3 scheme, the same style that has given the Ravens some issues recently. They feature a pair of strong defensive ends in Chris Long and James Hall, a familiar face up front in former Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan, and have a tackle machine behind him in middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who is the captain of the front seven. Veteran safety Quintin Mikell coordinates things on the back-end, and the former Eagle has been flying around so far this season, blitzing from every direction and forcing offenses to account for him on every play.
The Rams get after it defensively and they utilize a lot of exotic pressure packages, but as you can see in the stats above, they're vulnerable on the ground. Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be wise to pound the rock on Sunday and let fullback Vonta Leach and running back Ray Rice go to work.
I think this game will be closer than many expect, especially if Evans is unable to play for Baltimore. The Ravens' passing game is lacking playmakers right now, their secondary has struggled, and St. Louis can cause issues with their no-huddle offense and potential to force turnovers on the defensive end.
Still, I think the Ravens climb back above .500 with a 20-16 win.
What say you? Do you think the Ravens will bounce back after the frustrating loss last week in Tennessee, or is another sub-par road performance and a 1-2 record a possibility?
Who you got?