Classic matchup of offense vs. defense in St. Louis

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

The Baltimore Ravens slow things down. The St. Louis Rams speed things up.

That's one reason Sunday night's meeting in St. Louis between two 5-3 teams is so intriguing.

''They try to wear you out with their multiple formations, the incessant down-the-field throwing the ball at you,'' says Ravens coach Brian Billick. ''We try to wear you out a different way. It's a great contrast, and it's going to make for great theater.''

The Ravens, two games ahead of Cincinnati and Cleveland in the AFC North, wear out teams with Jamal Lewis, who leads the NFL in rushing with 1,045 yards. After eight games, that's a pace that could get him near Eric Dickerson's single-season mark of 2,105.

The Rams have their track shoes back on with Marc Bulger at quarterback in place of Kurt Warner. Torry Holt, having a Pro Bowl-type season, may have zoomed by Isaac Bruce, but both are among the game's best receivers

Baltimore would run even if it could throw better. It's first in the NFL in yards rushing, last in yards passing as rookie quarterback Kyle Boller plays a fail-safe game.

''The main thing is to keep the ball in our possession, so our defense will be rested when they have to go on the field,'' Lewis says.

St. Louis, which trails Seattle by a game in the NFC West, had a four-game winning streak broken last week in San Francisco. Marshall Faulk, who missed the past five games with a broken hand and knee surgery, should be back for the Rams..

Faulk may be needed in blitz pickup against the Baltimore defense, led by Ray Lewis. Arlen Harris, who replaced Faulk last week, was blamed for missing blocks on two of five San Francisco sacks.

''We need to correct what's wrong, and certainly what's wrong is fixable,'' coach Mike Martz says.

Tampa Bay (4-4) at Carolina (6-2)

Who knew the Bucs' division title could be on the line midway through the season? The Super Bowl champs have alternated wins and losses every week and need to maintain the pattern for this week to stay within reach of the Panthers in the NFC South.

Carolina is fading, too. The Panthers have lost two of their last three, including last week in Houston, when their defense couldn't keep journeyman Tony Banks from leading a game-winning TD drive.

Stephen Davis, who represents most of the Panthers' offense, is questionable with a sore ankle, but probably will play.

Miami (5-3) at Tennessee (6-2)

Two second-place teams trying to keep contact with the top of their divisions.

The Dolphins could have helped the Titans last week, but lost to the Colts, who lead Tennessee by a game in the AFC South. Miami is trying to get within a game of the Patriots.

Brian Griese will start again in place of Jay Fiedler, who has a sprained left knee.

The Dolphins hope Fiedler will be healthy enough to be the No. 2 quarterback, but Griese could keep the starter's job if he plays well.

Philadelphia (5-3) at Green Bay (4-4) (Monday night)

Neither team has been very good, but both are alive in their divisions. The Packers are two games behind in the NFC North because they won in Minnesota last Sunday night.

The Eagles, who trail Dallas by a game in the NFC East, have won four of five after an 0-2 start, but they're not overly impressive. They finally got their offense going when Donovan McNabb threw for 312 yards in a 23-16 win over Atlanta, which has the NFL's worst defense.

Cleveland (3-5) at Kansas City (8-0)

The Chiefs were off last week, a bye that was hardly needed. They have had no major injuries, so they had no one to heal.

They insist they've lost neither momentum nor confidence. ''I don't think anybody on this team really believes anything strange is going on here,'' cornerback Eric Warfield says.

The Browns have lost twice in a row, one at home to San Diego, the Chargers' only win. Cleveland will be without starting running back William Green, suspended by the team after being arrested for drunken driving.

Buffalo (4-4) at Dallas (6-2)

The Bills have to improve their road performance they've been outscored 85-15 in three straight away losses. They activated Willis McGahee this week, but he's not close to being ready.

Bill Parcells' methods may help in this game.

The Cowboys beat archrival Washington last week, but were sloppy doing it and Parcells ripped into them afterward.

Seattle (6-2) at Washington (3-5)

The Seahawks lead the NFC West, although they rarely blow away anyone.

They're just 1-2 on the road, so this game might be more dangerous than it looks.

It's not clear right now who's coaching the Redskins, who have lost four straight and five of six. Steve Spurrier is supposed to be the head guy, but everyone seems to be calling the shots from owner Dan (''The Fan'') Snyder down to ''consultants'' Pepper Rodgers, Joe Bugel and Foge Fazio. It might even be 40-year-old DE Bruce Smith, unhappy at not starting last week.

Indianapolis (7-1) at Jacksonville (1-7)

This game could provide a letdown for the Colts, who got a rare win in Miami last week, thanks in large part to the defensive heroics of Dwight Freeney.

But coach Tony Dungy knows the last 7-1 team he was involved with was 25 years ago, when he played for the Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

The Jaguars are playing out the season, giving Byron Leftwich experience at quarterback that they assume will lead to a much better future.

New York Jets (2-6) at Oakland (2-6)

These two are meeting for the seventh time since 1999 and the seventh time in Oakland. All were far more important, including playoff games won by the Raiders the last two seasons.

These are two very different 2-6 teams. The Raiders have lost four straight and cornerback Charles Woodson is openly criticizing coach Bill Callahan

The Jets have revived after an 0-4 start, with Chad Pennington making his first start last week in an overtime loss to the Giants and throwing four TD passes.

Atlanta (1-7) at New York Giants (4-4)

''This is a trap game for us, big time,'' says Jim Fassel, whose Giants seem to be making their annual late move they hope to catch Dallas and Philadelphia in the NFC East.

The Falcons haven't won since opening day, and have allowed the most points in the league (30 per game). Plus Dan Reeves and Michael Vick have been squabbling over the date of Vick's return.

Kurt Kittner is the QB this week over Doug Johnson, who had a career game against New York last season.

Arizona (3-5) at Pittsburgh (2-6)

How often have the Cardinals had a better record than the Steelers this late in the season? But Arizona's three wins have been at home and they've been outscored 103-44 on the road.

The Steelers now have lost five straight, with plenty of culprits to go around.

''Two-and-six? You expected it to be the other way around,'' says offensive lineman Alan Faneca.

Houston (3-5) at Cincinnati (3-5)

Two teams that actually should be happy with their records.

The Bengals lost in Arizona last week, but still have more victories at the halfway mark under Marvin Lewis than they did all of last season under Mike Brown and Dick LeBeau.

The Texans upset Carolina with Banks at quarterback for injured David Carr, who until then started every game they had played. Carr probably will return Sunday.

Minnesota (6-2) at San Diego (1-7)

This should be get-well week for the Vikings, who were beaten at home by the Giants and Packers the last two weeks, but still lead Green Bay by two games.

The Chargers might bench Drew Brees and start 41-year-old Doug Flutie at quarterback after Flutie led an aborted rally in Chicago last week.

Chicago (3-5) at Detroit (2-6)

The Bears won 24-16 in Chicago two weeks ago, but Detroit is hot now sort of seeking its first two-game winning streak in three seasons after beating the Raiders last week.

The Bears also are hot they got two straight by beating San Diego last week.



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