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The Raiders defense will have to contain Ravens running back Ray Rice. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
If the Raiders are going to bounce back after last week’s loss to the Bucs, it isn’t going to be easy.
Oakland could be without its top two running backs, Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, when it takes on the 6-2 Ravens in Baltimore Sunday. Its run defense, shredded for 251 yards by Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin, will have to find a way to plug its leaks and stop Ray Rice. And quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw three interceptions last week, will have to be more careful with the ball.
Plus, the 3-5 Raiders will have to beat the Ravens at home, where they’re always strong (a league-best 14 straight wins in Baltimore), and outscore a team that has feasted on sub.500 teams (27-5) under head coach John Harbaugh.
Not only will the Raiders likely be without McFadden and Goodson – meaning second-year pro Taiwan Jones could start at tailback – but top defensive tackle Richard Seymour has missed practice this week with knee and hamstring injuries and could also be out, another blow to a defense that was cut to pieces in the air and on the ground by Tampa Bay.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen and his staff worked hard this past week to get ready for the Ravens, but knows Oakland must fix its problems.
“We have to learn from those mistakes and we have to be able to get it corrected,” he told reporters this week.
Oddsmakers have made the Ravens a 7½-point favorite.
The Ravens defense is missing All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and standout cornerback Lardarius Webb, out with season-ending injuries, but still has playmakers, such as linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Cary Williams (four interceptions in his last five games) and veteran safety Ed Reed, who had his 60th career interception in last week’s victory over the Browns.
The Ravens are a no-nonsense team, built on defense, a strong rushing game – they ran 37 times vs. Cleveland – and a quarterback in Joe Flacco who fits the system. Baltimore under John Harbaugh is much like San Francisco under Jim Harbaugh: the Ravens like to establish the run and build off that. According to the Associated Press, Baltimore is 18-0 since the start of last season when it runs the ball at least 22 times and is 0-6 when it doesn’t.
“We’ve never been fancy and pretty, but we find ourselves on top most of the time,” Rice told the AP. “That’s Ravens football. Our wins are not pretty, but when you’re 6-2, there’s no complaining about it.”
The Raiders’ offense will be a question mark Sunday. Oakland has had trouble running the ball, even with a healthy McFadden. If the untested Jones is the No.1 back in Baltimore, will the Raiders stand a chance of having a balanced offense? Or will it have to be a total dose of Palmer trying to throw the ball on every down, as he had to do last week once the Raiders fell behind Tampa Bay?
One ray of light: Palmer, who played against the Ravens so many times when he was with the Bengals, is 9-4 against them.
Baltimore considers Palmer –who has thrown for 2,355 yards and 13 TDs this season – dangerous.
“I don’t fear any quarterbacks, but I’m always worried when I play Carson Palmer,” Suggs told the media this week. “I’m very aware of the talent. I know he can make every throw. If you ask me, he’s highly underrated.”