Scouting Report

Ravens vs. Buccaneers

September 10, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Ravens run offense vs. Buccaneers run defense

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis has struggled in every season opener that he has started. He has averaged 3.5 yards a carry in his past four season openers. Tampa Bay returns the core of a defense that ranked No. 6 against the run last season. Running between the tackles is difficult to do against the Buccaneers because of stout interior linemen Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan. It's equally as tough to get to the outside against Tampa Bay's quick-pursuit linebackers, Shelton Quarles and Derrick Brooks. The Bucs allowed two 100-yard rushers last season.

Edge: Bucs

Ravens pass offense vs. Buccaneers pass defense

Against the highly publicized Tampa 2 defense (both safeties play deep to take away the big play), new Ravens quarterback Steve McNair should have his way with the short and intermediate passes. The best target in this range is tight end Todd Heap, who made an instant connection with McNair this summer. The Ravens should be able to negate the Bucs' pass rush by calling shorter drops for McNair as well as giving help to whatever side defensive end Simeon Rice (five straight double-digit sack seasons) lines up. There will be a temptation to go deep against Tampa Bay, but that strategy plays to strength of the defense. Cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly combined for nine interceptions last season.

Edge: Ravens

Buccaneers run offense vs. Ravens run defense

Ranking in the top 10 for six of the past seven seasons, the Ravens' run defense has long been a source of pride. But there has to be some concern about how the front seven has jelled with the addition of rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce. It could take a few games before the Ravens live up to their successful history, which features just 16 running backs gaining 100 yards against them since 2000 (second fewest in the NFL). Despite running behind a shaky offensive line, Tampa Bay's Carnell Williams totaled six 100-yard outings in 14 starts as a rookie. A physical runner, he wore down defenses last season, averaging 5.7 yards a carry in the fourth quarter (his best of any quarter).

Edge: Bucs

Buccaneers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense

The Ravens have one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL with safety Ed Reed along with cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. They should be able to contain receivers Joey Galloway (age 34) and Michael Clayton (32 catches last season). The Ravens' priority has been to create more turnovers, which could be tough against second-year starting quarterback Chris Simms. He didn't throw an interception in five of his last six regular-season games last year. If pass rusher Terrell Suggs continues his strong finish to the preseason, the Ravens might force Simms to make some poor decisions.

Edge: Ravens

Special teams

The usually precise Matt Stover has been off the mark in season openers. He has missed five of his seven field-goal attempts in openers since 2001. It'll be interesting to see how rookie punter Sam Koch handles the pressure of his first regular-season game. He seemed nervous early in the preseason before settling down. Bucs kicker Matt Bryant (21-for-25 on field goals last season) was in the middle of the pack in accuracy, and Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell ranked third in the NFL in average (45.6 yards).

Edge: Bucs

Intangibles

Not only have the Ravens lost every road game since November 2004, they also have lost their past four season openers. The Ravens have been outscored, 88-32, in season openers since 2002. In eight road games last season, the Ravens averaged a paltry 12.5 points. The Bucs have been tough at home, winning 10 of the past 14 regular-season games at Raymond James Stadium.

Edge: Bucs

Prediction

Most of the blame for the Ravens' long-standing road woes can be put on the offense. This time, the defense will come up short. The Ravens will have trouble slowing the Bucs' smash-mouth running game, taking it on the chin in the season opener.

Bucs: 20-13

Today, 1 p.m.--Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.--Chs. 13, 9 -- Line: Bucs by 3

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