NFL Preview - Baltimore (9-3) at Washington (6-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Anquan Boldin is a confident player.
Boldin leads the Baltimore Ravens in catches and receiving yards through 12 games, and believes in his teammates so much that he feels the Ravens will win the AFC North Division.
"We are alright," Boldin said after Sunday's loss to rival Pittsburgh. "We're 9-3. We're still in the lead for this division. We're still going to win this division, so we're OK."
The Ravens will have to put their money where Boldin's mouth is Sunday versus the upstart Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. This game won't be an easy one for a Baltimore team coming off a disappointing 23-20 last-second loss to the despised Steelers, who pulled within two games of the Ravens in the division.
Baltimore slowed down Pittsburgh's running game, but may have taken aging backup quarterback Charlie Batch too lightly. Batch orchestrated a pair of fourth-quarter drives to rally Pittsburgh and set up Shaun Suisham's game- winning 42-yard field goal as time expired. A seven-yard touchdown pass from Batch to Heath Miller earlier was made possible by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was stripped of the football by linebacker James Harrison.
"I was getting ready to tuck it and chalk (the play) up as a loss," Flacco said. "The guy came around and hit my wrist, he hit the ball and just got it out. I tried to hold on, but I couldn't."
The Ravens, who had won 16 in a row as the host, blew a chance to gain the upper hand for another division crown and may have squelched a chance to wrap up one of the top two spots in the AFC playoffs. They lead Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by two games in the division with four to play, but the schedule ahead is not an easy one with Washington, Denver, the New York Giants and the Bengals on the docket.
It certainly won't be easy for the Ravens without linebacker Terrell Suggs, who suffered a right biceps injury. Reports have circulated that Suggs suffered a torn biceps and others have indicated it's not as serious. Either way, Ravens coach John Harbaugh will err on the side of caution.
"I think we are," Harbaugh said when asked if the team is encouraged that Suggs' injury is not long term. "We are encouraged that it may not be, and we'll just have to see. If I knew that for sure or could say it for sure, I would. I just can't right now. But, we have some encouragement there."
Suggs, who is a game-time decision Sunday, battled back from an Achilles injury to play this season and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is the voice of the defense, especially with future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis still nursing a torn right triceps suffered Oct. 14 against Dallas. Lewis returned to practice on Wednesday just weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his triceps. However, he is not eligible to play until Dec. 16 against the Broncos.
"I don't know that he's ready to play in a game [right now]," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "This will be part of his rehab and we'll see how he does. When the time comes and if we think Ray can play, we'll let you know."
Baltimore had a four-game winning streak stopped last week and its defense hasn't been as dominant in years past. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens, winners of three straight on the road, prepare for Redskins elusive rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who just led his team to a Monday night win over the defending champion Giants.
Griffin recorded his third straight rating of 100 or better in a clutch 17-16 win over the NFC East-leading Giants, who now lead the division by one game over both Washington and Dallas. It was RG3's only touchdown pass of the game that won it for the 'Skins as he tossed an eight-yard strike to Pierre Garcon early in the fourth quarter.
The rookie QB had thrown four TD passes in each of his previous two games, but kept the touchdown streak alive at three games in a row. Fellow rookie Alfred Morris eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark with 124 yards on 22 carries, helping the Redskins become the first team in NFL history to have a rookie with 2,000 passing yards and a rookie with 1,000 rushing yards.
Morris and RG3 have helped Washington become the top-ranked rushing offense in the league. Morris posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season and became the first Redskins running back with a 1,000 yards rushing since Clinton Portis in 2008. He became just the second Redskins rookie with 1,000 yards rushing in a season, breaking Reggie Brooks' mark set back in 1993. Morris fumbled in the second half, but was able to move on from the blunder.
"(My coaches and teammates) put their trust in me and I earned their respect," Morris said. "I could have hung my head after that fumble, but I didn't, and I picked myself back up and knew we had a game to win."
But there's still more work to be done if the Redskins intend on making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"We want to get better, we want to get back to the drawing board," Redskins fullback Darrel Young said. Watch this film. Think about all of the mistakes we made, come back Wednesday and get ready for Baltimore."
Washington, which has won three in a row since losing three straight, leads the NFL with 167.2 rushing yards per game, while the Ravens are 23rd in run defense, allowing 125.8 ypg. Redskins tackle Trent Williams did not practice Wednesday because of a thigh ailment, while linebacker London Fletcher (ankle) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (ankle, knee) rested. All three are expected to play Sunday.
The Redskins haven't had much success against the Ravens, losing three of the four all-time meetings, including a 24-10 setback in the previous encounter back on Dec. 7, 2008. Sunday's game will be the fourth in D.C.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Ravens' pass attack is rated in the middle of the pack as opposed to Washington's pass defense, which is 31st, allowing 299.0 ypg. Giants quarterback Eli manning threw for 280 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, but that mostly happened in the first half.
Washington held the Giants to three points in the last two quarters. That alone should build plenty of confidence for a team in the hunt for the postseason.
"Anytime you win in this league ... especially three divisional games ... you just fly around," Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "(We're) playing four quarters and just out there laying it on and loose, having fun."
The Ravens have to attack through the air with Boldin and Torrey Smith. Flacco may have had a rough showing on Sunday, but has established himself as one of the elite QBs in the AFC. He had a 61.9 rating versus Pittsburgh, his seventh of the season under 100. Flacco has thrown a TD pass in six of seven games and has five in the previous four. Washington will have to apply pressure up front with sack leader Ryan Kerrigan (6 1/2 sacks) and company, as Flacco has been sacked 10 times in the previous three contests.
Even though the Redskins are fourth in run defense, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw had 103 yards on 24 carries. Wide receiver Victor Cruz hauled in five passes for 104 yards and tight end Martellus Bennett finished with five catches for 82 yards and a score.
So what does that mean for Baltimore's offense? Expect a lot of Ray Rice even though he carried the ball just 12 times versus the Steelers. Rice is dangerous between the tackles and out of the backfield, too, but didn't get the ball in the fourth quarter last week. Rice, who dazzled on a catch and run on 4th-and-29 in a win over San Diego the week before, didn't get in a twist over the lack of carries.
"My touches go with the game flow," said Rice, who had 78 rushing yards. "Obviously, I turned up a huge bunch of yards today, and we could have ran the ball a little bit more. But you know what? Situational football came into play. We put ourselves in the best situation to try and win the game. It was all about execution today. We just fell a little short."
Speaking of short, the Ravens will be shorthanded on defense if Suggs is unable to go with an arm injury. It appears he'll miss this week's game and that could hurt against RG3 and Morris -- the top two weapons for the Redskins. Griffin is third with a 104.4 passer rating and fifth with a 67.1 completion percentage. Morris is tied for third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards. Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe may return Sunday after missing the Pittsburgh game with ankle, knee and thumb issues.
Baltimore's defense has been on the decline for a few seasons now and surprisingly the Ravens are still one of the top teams in the AFC. Is it because of Flacco, Rice and the ninth-highest scoring offense the Ravens are nearing another playoff run? Perhaps, but Sunday they will face a true test against a confident Redskins team on the rise. While many in the D.C. area are rejoicing for RG3 and apt play-calling, the nation's capital will sustain a letdown when Baltimore beats the Redskins at their own game: running the ball.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 24, Redskins 16
12/06 15:52:29 ET