Ravens' Boller has taken his bumps on road

Quarterback has plenty to prove

offensive line, McGahee do, too

October 21, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Traveling to Buffalo during the regular season for the first time, the Ravens play a team today that sits at the bottom of the NFL rankings.

The Bills have the league's second-worst offense, starting a rookie quarterback and running back. They have the NFL's worst defense, going with two third-string players in a banged-up secondary.

So, why are the Ravens only three-point favorites?

"The stats and the numbers might not say it, but they're a really, really good team," said Kyle Boller, who will start at quarterback for the injured Steve McNair. "We definitely have our work cut out."

Still, the Ravens' biggest obstacle isn't the Bills but the Ravens themselves.

Boller has to prove he can win on the road. A young offensive line has to show it can bounce back from a disappointing effort. Running back Willis McGahee, a former Bill, has to overcome the toughest crowd he will ever face. And the entire team has to withstand another run of injuries.

A breakdown of the Ravens' challenges today:

Boller on the road: Boller knows he can't win the starting job from McNair no matter how well he plays. But he can still gain more confidence from his teammates by knocking down another wall in his career.

One criticism of Boller has been his inability to consistently win on the road. He is 5-12 away from home in his career with a 62.1 quarterback rating.

In losing his past seven road starts, he has averaged 176 passing yards and has thrown five touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.

"Buffalo is definitely a hostile place," said Boller, who hasn't won a road game since Nov. 14, 2004, against the New York Jets. "It is going to be awesome to be able to go there. To play on the road versus playing at home, there's a lot of distractions that you've got to set aside and just go out there and focus."

Young offensive line: The Ravens' offensive line - which is expected to include three rookies for a second straight game but regain veteran center Mike Flynn - needs to get over its growing pains.

This group failed to open holes last Sunday for McGahee (who averaged a season-worst 2.4 yards a carry) and allowed Boller to repeatedly get hit.

But the biggest point of emphasis is limiting critical penalties. A holding penalty on Chris Chester negated a touchdown, and a false-start call on Jason Brown came on fourth-and-one to stop a drive.

"In that regard, it wasn't good enough," offensive line coach Chris Foerster said.

"If they didn't have those penalties, I'd say it was a good day. But those penalties are the things that take us out of drives and kill things. Now, going on the road, those things have to stop. If they don't stop, we're going to hamper the success of our offense."

McGahee's return to Buffalo: When the Ravens' buses head to Ralph Wilson Stadium, McGahee will see billboards that read: "Willis is trash."

When the game begins, fans are expected to constantly boo McGahee after he once suggested the Bills move to Toronto and later criticized Buffalo for its restaurants and women.

But will this serve as a motivation or a distraction for McGahee?

"Willis lives for this," said Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish, who also played with McGahee at the University of Miami.

"He loves going out and playing his best football when everyone is against him. I'm just waiting to see what he's going to do if he gets a touchdown. He'll probably do something stupid. Hopefully, we don't give him that chance."

More injuries: One game away from their bye, the Ravens are limping into another game with a skeleton crew.

Six injured starters are considered out: McNair (back), tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (toe) and Adam Terry (ankle), defensive lineman Trevor Pryce (wrist) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee).

That's in addition to three starters - Flynn (knee), linebacker Ray Lewis (knee) and cornerback Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness) - who are not playing at full strength.

"I think this team is built for adversity, for things to totally not go in our favor," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We just have to see how we react to it. Champions perform at a time like this."

Note -- The Ravens waived kicker Rhys Lloyd and running back-return specialist Cory Ross, and signed tackle Mike Kracalik and tight end Lee Vickers to the 53-man roster off their practice squad.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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