Ravens vs. Falcons

November 19, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,Sun Reporter

Today, 1 p.m. -- M&T Bank Stadium -- Ch. 45 -- 1090 AM, 97.9 FM -- Line: Ravens by 4

Ravens run offense vs. Falcons run defense

Despite playing six games against defenses ranked 22nd or lower in run defense, running back Jamal Lewis ranks 24th in the NFL in rushing (64.2 yards a game). He has averaged 3 yards or fewer in three of his past six games. Ranked ninth in run defense, the Falcons have a fast and aggressive front seven that does a good job of attacking gaps. The biggest challenge is for left guard Jason Brown and center Mike Flynn to move nose tackle Grady Jackson. In its two-game losing streak, Atlanta has given up three rushing touchdowns.

Edge: Falcons

Ravens pass offense vs. Falcons pass defense

Atlanta is hurting in the secondary, where cornerback Jason Webster (groin) is out and two other starters - cornerback Jimmy Williams (ankle) and safety Chris Crocker (hip) - are questionable. The Falcons' pass rush has even more problems because ends John Abraham (groin) and Patrick Kerney (pectoral) are out with injuries. The Ravens could try to exploit the Falcons by spreading them out with their deepest receiving group in years (Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and rookie Demetrius Williams). Tight end Todd Heap, who leads the Ravens with five touchdowns, is questionable with an ankle injury. In three career games against Atlanta, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair is 3-0 with a 101.2 quarterback rating.

Edge: Ravens

Falcons run offense vs. Ravens run defense

As the NFL's top-ranked rushing team, the Falcons are on pace to break the league record for rushing yards in a single season. But Atlanta hasn't been committed to the run in its past two losses. Quarterback Michael Vick has led the team in rushing, gaining 74 and 80 yards the past two weeks, while running back Warrick Dunn's carries have decreased. The Falcons' problems can be partially attributed to the loss of guards Kynan Forney (shoulder) and Matt Lehr, who could be coming off a four-game suspension. The Ravens are ranked No. 2 in run defense, but they will be without linebacker Ray Lewis (back). Jarret Johnson is expected to make his first start at inside linebacker.

Edge: Even

Falcons pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense

The praise for Vick as a pocket passer has diminished the past two games after he fumbled twice without contact and threw four interceptions. That has caught the attention of the Ravens, who lead the NFL in take-aways (26). Linebacker Adalius Thomas has the ability to negate Vick if the Ravens decide to use him to spy the fleet-footed quarterback. The Ravens will look to double tight end Alge Crumpler, Vick's favorite target, in the red zone and in passing situations. The weak link of the secondary remains cornerback Samari Rolle, who isn't playing with confidence.

Edge: Ravens

Special teams

The Ravens' special teams have come up with game-changing plays the past two weeks. Against Cincinnati, the Ravens forced a fumble on the opening kickoff. Against Tennessee, Trevor Pryce blocked a potential winning field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter. The Ravens have a stronger kicking game. Matt Stover has converted his past 36 field goals, the third-longest streak in NFL history. The Falcons' Morten Andersen hasn't made a kick beyond 44 yards this season.

Edge: Ravens

Intangibles

After losing two straight games for the first time this season, the Falcons are the more desperate team, looking to find their way back into the NFC playoff race. When it comes to the AFC North, Atlanta plays to the level of competition, beating Cincinnati and Pittsburgh but losing to Cleveland. Over their previous two games, the Ravens have been living dangerously, winning despite some major lapses.

Edge: Falcons

Prediction

The Ravens' defense will have trouble at times containing Atlanta's running game without injured Ray Lewis. But the Falcons' defense is banged up more, which will allow McNair to do enough to win another close one.

Ravens, 20-17

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