The Ravens are set for the "Beltway Battle" as they gear up to take on the neighboring Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium on NBC's *Sunday Night Football (8:15pm ET).*
BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's Week 14 opponent.
Total Offense - 13 (339.1) Total Defense - 6 (283.0)
Rush Offense - 5 (139.4) Rush Defense - 7 (90.8)
Pass Offense - 20 (199.7) Pass Defense - 7 (192.2)
Points Per Game - 28 (17.3) Points Per Game - 18.5 (6)
Sizing Them Up
Sunday's contest pits first-time head coach John Harbaugh against fellow rookie head coach Jim Zorn of the Redskins. Like Harbaugh's Ravens, Zorn has his team in the thick of the playoff race, as the 'Skins boast a 7-5 record.
Of late, however, Washington has seen tough times. The Redskins jumped out to a 6-2 start, only to drop three of their last four contests.
Much of that has had to do with the play of fourth-year quarterback Jason Campbell. Typically a safe passer, the Auburn product hadn't thrown an interception in those first eight games, only to toss four spread out among those three recent losses. Still, Campbell has the cannon of an arm that can make defenses pay. He has completed 63.8 percent of his passes (241-of-378) for 2,560 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Five of those scores have gone to wideout Santana Moss, one of the most explosive receivers in the NFL. Moss may only be 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, but he has the blinding speed to turn short catches into long gains or blaze past a cornerback. The eight-year veteran has 10 receptions of 20 or more yard this year, not to mention a 27-yard run and an 80-yard punt return.
Joining Moss in the receiving corps is versatile tight end Chris Cooley, who leads the Redskins with 66 grabs. He also has 701 yards and one score. Antwaan Randle El is another multi-talented speedster that can run, catch, or even pass, as evidenced by his experience as a college quarterback at Indiana under Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
But, Washington's offense is moved on the legs of running back Clinton Portis. He is second in the NFL with 1,228 rushing yards and has a team-high seven touchdowns. Portis, who averages 4.8 yards per carry, even ticked off five consecutive 100-yard days this season.
Defensively, the Redskins' secondary is a definite strength. They have a pair of Pro Bowl corners in Shawn Springs and recent addition DeAngelo Hall to go along with Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot, forming a quartet of cover men that rival any group in the league. Safeties LaRon Landry, a hard hitter and brother of Ravens safety Dawan Landry, and surprising seventh-round draft pick Chris Horton, who leads the club with three interceptions, mark receivers over the top.
Up front, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and defensive end Andre Carter, not to mention six-time Pro Bowler and former Miami Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor, make up a defensive line that gets after the quarterback. The Redskins have posted 10 sacks in the past five games.
Linebacker London Fletcher anchors the middle linebacker position in his second year in the nation's capital. His 106 tackles this year mark the 10th consecutive campaign where he's topped the century point.
My counterpart with the 'Skins, Gary Fitzgerald, offers a look at Hall, who heads into his second meeting with the Ravens this season after he was released from the Oakland Raiders and then picked up by Washington a few weeks ago.
"Hall signed with the Redskins on Nov. 9 after the Raiders released him in an apparent salary cap move. In Hall's second matchup against Baltimore, he has an idea what to expect from the Ravens' offense."
Star left tackle Chris Samuels has been having a tough year because of a knee injury, according to Jason Reid of the Washington Post.
"With a once-promising season threatening to slip away, Samuels is among many team leaders who have taken on more responsibility as Washington begins its final four-game stretch. Samuels plans to start Sunday as the Redskins (7-5) face the Ravens (8-4) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Anything beyond that depends on how his knee fares."
Post columnist Thomas Boswell writes that the Redskins' playoff hopes are sinking rapidly.
"The Redskins find themselves in dire need not merely of a win, but of a winning streak if they are to keep their season alive in January."
David Elfin from the Washington Times focuses on the expanded role center Casey Rabach will have this weekend.
"For the third time in seven games, the center will line up against a 3-4 defense, which means a different and more physically demanding role."
Offensive - It's Portis, hands down. Portis not only leads the team in rushing and is second in the NFL, but he's leading the league with 1,415 all-purpose yardage. A tough runner inside the tackles, the University of Miami product can also shake tacklers on the edges. He's one of only two runners to average better than 100 yards a game (102.3) this season. And here's a little-known stat: Portis leads the NFL in first downs, having generated 61.
Defensive - Fletcher gets my nod. His 106 stops paces the team by far, as the second-most tackles are Rocky McIntosh's 76. At 5-foot10, 245 pounds, some have said Fletcher is too small to play linebacker, but he makes up for it with speed and big hits. Fletcher was the Redskins' defensive MVP last year. He's also had three double-digit tackle games this season.
Safety Chris Horton has been more than a pleasant surprise since he was drafted in the seventh round out of UCLA. In his first career start - Sept. 14 against the New Orleans Saints - Horton registered four tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He added another pick against Dallas in Week 4, aiding a 26-24 Washington win. Horton has even topped 10 stops twice in 2007.
**Ravens DT Haloti Ngata
vs. Redskins C Casey Rabach**
Ngata is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, helming the defensive line with 58 tackles, 14 quarterback hits, one sack and two interceptions. His 345 pound will push up against the 288-pound Rabach, a solid technician who uses leverage to block bigger defenders. Ngata will be critical for the Ravens to pressure Campbell and plug up the middle and stop Portis.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Redskins DBs
Washington possesses a playmaking secondary with a ton of talent, but Flacco has been stellar lately. Going back seven games, Flacco has tossed 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, posting a 99.1 passer rating, which is tops in the league. The Redskins, however, have held opponents to under 200 passing yards in three of the last four contests, snaring six interceptions over that span.
Zorn on how he feels the Redskins are playing at this point and what has to happen for his team to make the playoffs:
"I think we're playing better on defense than we are on offense, for sure. We just don't have enough consistency on offense yet. To make the playoffs – I try to divide up the season into quarters – I think in this last quarter we have to do very well. As the season went for us, we were 3-1, 3-1, and then we were 1-3 in that third quarter of the season and it didn't separate us from anybody.
"In fact, it just jumbled us with a lot of other teams that have a chance to get to a tournament at the end of the season. So that's kind of our main focus, these last four games. And each one is the most important game, and it starts with this one. "
Moss on how much he feels Campbell has grown under coach Jim Zorn and if he's made more progress this year than in the past:
"I feel like he's gotten better. I feel like every year every player in this league should learn a little more and should be able to get better. Coming from Jason's standpoint of it, being through the offenses that he has been through and happening to be the guy to lead us out there every Sunday, I think he's showing a lot of upside in his game as far as where he can take us and where he's coming from. And that's a plus when you see that kind of change in a guy.
"It's not really like a drastic change. I just feel like you've gotten to the comfortable zone. He's feeling a lot [more] comfortable and he's doing things that he normally should do to lead us to where we're trying to go.
I know that to most of the Ravens fans out there, especially the ones from or currently residing in Maryland, this game is one that sparks thoughts of hatred towards the team to the south.
But to the players and coaches, this "Beltway Battle" is not about the rivalry between two clubs separated by about 40 miles. This has more to do with the fight to stay within the playoff race through December, to hopefully earn a January showcase.
In order for the Ravens to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who sit atop the AFC North, they will have to establish the run early. Listen, the team's formula isn't anything crazy new here. It's about being physical up front, plugging away with whatever running back has the hot hand, and then taking shots downfield if the opportunity presents itself.
Of course, that's not going to be easy against a stingy Washington defense that features a stellar back end. What the Ravens' receivers must do - and I'm expecting the tough rookie Marcus Smith to reprise his role as the third wideout - is equal the physicality of the Redskins' secondary. The unit likes to run press coverage, which can lead to some of those big plays - if the receiver can get off the line of scrimmage.
Baltimore's rush defense gets another test with Clinton Portis, but he is pretty banged up and a few hard hits from Ray Lewis
and Co. could alter his status. The Ravens should look to occupy Washington blockers to let Lewis and Bart Scott
can chase Portis sideline-to-sideline.
And, since this game is one that could have some nasty weather conditions, special teams is going to be critical. Sam Koch
has been a master all season at placing punts inside the 20, and with an opportunistic defense, Baltimore could turn poor Redskins field position into some points.
As for the rivalry, it's definitely going to be a rocking M&T Bank Stadium for the fans, which will no-doubt charge the players.
Like John Harbaugh said Friday, "I think, more than anything, we're proud to be representing Baltimore and looking forward to it."
Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.
VOTE for your favorite Ravens in the Pro Bowl 2009 ballot. Voting ends this Tuesday, Dec. 9th.