*The Ravens are set to take on the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium. BR.com offers a breakdown of Baltimore's Week 8 opponent. *
Total Offense - 23 (300.0) Total Defense - 26 (360.5)
Rush Offense - 5 (143.0) Rush Defense-24 (136.2)
Pass Offense - 27 (157.3) Pass Defense -22 (224.3)
Points Per Game - T27 (16.2) Points Per Game - 23 (24.7)
Sizing Them Up
After only four games, Raiders owner Al Davis decided to replace former head coach Lane Kiffin with offensive line assistant Tom Cable. The results have been favorable, as a plucky Oakland squad is coming off a 16-13 victory over the New York Jets.
But Cable isn't going it alone. He's aided by veteran coordinators. Rob Ryan, Rex Ryan's twin brother, leads the defense that has been solid in recent years, and Greg Knapp, who has been an offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers from 2001-03, the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06 and now the Raiders for two years.
Offensively, the Raiders are a ground-heavy team, averaging 143.0 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the league. They get the job done behind a trio of playmakers – rookie Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush.
McFadden, the fourth-overall draft pick, already averages 5.1 yards a carry, toting the ball 67 times for 341 yards. Fargas has a breakout 2007 campaign, where he totaled 1,009 yards and four touchdowns in only 14 games. He currently has 65 attempts for 249 yards. Bush is not too far behind, with 47 carries for 202 yards.
Under center is the 6-foot-6, 260-pound JaMarcus Russell, the first selection of the 2007 draft. Russell, who has been compared in size and escapability to Ben Roethlisberger, is showing signs of coming into his own. With one of the league's strongest arms, Russell has the ability to launch the ball accurately downfield.
Ryan's defensive unit is ranked 26th in the league, allowing 360.5 yards per contest. But there are still big-time players. Up front, there is Pro Bowl pass rusher Derrick Burgess who has 36.5 sacks since 2005. In the middle, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said linebacker Kirk Morrison is a player to watch.
Oakland's strong point on defense may be in the secondary, where Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall was added this offseason and is paired with Nnamdi Asomugha – one of the up-and-coming prospects.
The Raiders' special teams are also solid. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski's 57-yard game-winner last week set an NFL mark for the longest in overtime history and was a franchise record. Meanwhile, punter Shane Lechler is a three-time Pro Bowler and has recorded a punt of 50 yards or more in each of Oakland's six games this season.
Tom Pedula of USA Today talks about the progression of Russell, whom he thinks is starting to get it as a passer after beating the Jets.
"After struggling since he was the top pick in the 2007 draft, quarterback JaMarcus Russell possesses a renewed confidence as he leads the Oakland Raiders into Baltimore to face a tough Ravens' defense on Sunday."
Steve Corkran, a writer with The San Jose Mercury News, said Cable is not accepting a glut of Raiders penalties.
"Upon further review, Cable said Monday: "This penalty thing is ridiculous. We have to address it. Not that we haven't in the past, but it has got to continue to be a point of emphasis. We have to get very detailed in our work and in our ideas toward that. The biggest thing to me is really staying focused."
Corkran also expounds on the play of left guard Robert Gallery.
"Gallery credits the teachings of Coach Tom Cable and the stability that comes with not worrying about learning a new blocking scheme every season."
Offensive - That would have to be McFadden. He's been sensational, breaking big runs with his long, striding running style. The Arkansas product had a breakout performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, where he busted loose for 164 yards on 20 carries.
Defensive - Hall is showing that he's worth the big contract the Raiders used to lure him away from the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. The speedy corner is a gambler, but that's paid off with three interceptions and nine passes defensed. Hall also has 33 tackles, which is a high number for a corner at this point in the year.
In his second year, tight end Zach Miller is developing into a premier playmaker. He currently leads the team with 18 grabs for 256 yards, with a long of 63 yards. Miller, 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, also added one touchdown.
The Raiders selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Raiders CB DeAngelo Hall
Mason is one of the fiercest competitors on the Ravens' roster, and he'll likely be seeing Hall, an equally fiery player, on the other side of scrimmage. Hall, who was named the NFL's Fastest Man at a 2006 Pro Bowl competition, is known to take risks. Mason will have to be solid running routes and on the same page with quarterback Joe Flacco to get Hall to bite on a fake or two.
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Raiders RBs Darren McFadden and Justin Fargas
It's no secret that the Raiders will give the ball to McFadden and Fargas often, but a few bone-shaking hits from Lewis to begin the game could send a message early. If the Ravens' front wall of Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan can do a good job of holding up two blockers, Lewis could have another 10-plus tackle day.
Tom Cable on what Rob Ryan has meant to him as a coach in terms of running the Raiders' defense:"It's been important to have him for the simple reason that it's got his handprint on it, and those guys go out and they play for him. They like the scheme. I think there's a lot of camaraderie with the coaches and players on that side of the ball, so it's been invaluable in terms of having him here and just keeping the thing moving forward."
Hall on if expects some verbal exchanges with Mason:"Oh, I don't think so. I have a mutual respect for him. I feel like he has the same likewise. Last time I played against him, when I was in Atlanta, we actually exchanged jerseys after the game, so he's a guy that I respect. I think he respects me, too. We're going to go out there and have fun. If we end up talking a little bit, then we do. But I definitely respect him as a player, I feel like he's done a lot in this league, and hopefully I can make it to 13 [seasons]."
I'm pretty sure Rex Ryan had a delightful dinner last night with his dad, longtime NFL coach Buddy Ryan, and his twin brother, Rob.
Now, I don't know what they had or who picked up the check, but I do know that whatever family love they shared at the table in the Inner Harbor is definitely going to be short lived on the field Sunday.
But, there is a lot more to this game besides a little sibling rivalry.
The Ravens are taking on a rejuvenated team that seems to be really laying it on the line for Cable. That showed up in last week's overtime win. A club needs to be gritty and passionate to eek out a victory in the extra period.
The Raiders are a scrappy squad built around a playmaking rushing attack and a solid defense. Both sides of the ball are big and fast, as is typical of Oakland football. It will definitely be a slug-fest, but the Ravens had games like that already against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans.
Obviously, those outcomes didn't go the Ravens' way, so this weekend, it will be another case of winning the one-on-one battles in the trenches. That especially holds true if Baltimore wants to get its ground game revved up so the deep ball opens for Flacco.
If that can happen, it might be a fun family reunion for Rex.
Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.