The Oakland Raiders travel to the East Coast to take on the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 Week 10 action. This will be the seventh matchup between the two teams, who first met in 1996. The Ravens lead the all-time regular season series 5-1. The Raiders faced the Ravens in the AFC Championship game in 2000 and lost by a score of 16-3.
The Ravens lead the AFC North with a 6-2 record and both their offense and defense present many challenges for the Raiders. "They are an exceptional football team," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "They have been very successful under this head coach. John Harbaugh has done an outstanding job with the team. They are another one of those teams that has the formula for success. They know how to win and they are extremely tough to play in that building. Obviously we have got our work cut out for us."
While the Raiders prepare for Baltimore, the Ravens are preparing for the challenges the Silver and Black bring. "He's [Carson Palmer] not going to be intimidated by the environment at all," said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh during his Wednesday press conference. "He's been in it many times. He manages and operates the offense as well as anybody, and some of the same things he did in Cincinnati, he's doing now. He can make every throw. There's not a throw he can't make, and when he's on, he's on time; he can really stick it in a tight window. He's a fearless competitor. You watch him play with tremendous enthusiasm out there, and he loves to compete. So, we've got a lot of respect for Carson Palmer."
Harbaugh is equally impressed with the rest of the Raiders offense. "Denarius, obviously, was a great pickup for them. What a great signing by them two years ago," said Harbaugh. "They've got speed, really, everywhere. [Darrius] Heyward-Bey is doing a nice job. He's a downfield threat, a double-move threat [and] becoming a better route-runner all the time. All of their receivers, all of their guys, [Marcel] Reece, No. 45, has become a multi-dimensional threat for them. They line him up at fullback, tailback, anywhere, as a wide receiver. So, they've got some versatile threats out there for Carson."
As much respect as Harbaugh has for the Raiders offense, Palmer and his group know they need to go out and execute against a defense re-energized by the return of LB Terrell Suggs. "I've played against him for 15 years now," said Palmer on Suggs. "He's a phenomenal football player, phenomenal against the pass and phenomenal against the run. There aren't many guys that are great at both like he is. I don't know if there is another one that's as good as he is at playing both. As far as playing against Baltimore, it's always an uphill battle. Their numbers aren't, statistically, where they normally are, and they've had some injuries. They're still 6-2, they're still very good at home. Their crowd is phenomenal. They make it a very hostile environment to come in and try to communicate and play. You have to play great, you can't play okay and go in there and win. You have to go in there and play great for four quarters and put together a complete game if you want to get out of there with a win. It's difficult to do there."
The offensive line will be tested by Suggs and, if healthy, DT Haloti Ngata. "Those guys are great players, obviously," said T Jared Veldheer. "You can see in their resume, those guys have a ton of accolades, they show up definitely when you pop the tape on, right away. They're guys that you've got to account for every play, and we need to be on top of our assignment, on top of our technique and be ready for the challenge."
The line has been working hard to be ready for the Ravens defensive front. "I think if we keep preparing like we have been and keep studying it on tape; the more you do that, the more it slows down, the more you know what is going on out there and the game kind of slows down," said Veldheer. "When you can do that and then go out there and only have to worry about executing, that's when I feel like we're at our best."
Despite LB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb out for the season, the Raiders will still have to contend with guys like FS Ed Reed, SS Bernard Pollard and CB Cary Williams. "There's no doubt that it's awfully tough to play that defense and awfully tough to play them there," said offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. "Their 14-game [home] win streak speaks for itself. Up front, having Suggs come back helps them a lot in the edge pass rushing. They've got the two big guys inside that really do a decent job of stuffing the run. [Bernard] Pollard and Ed Reed are outstanding safeties. Ed's one of the best at studying pass concepts. Our quarterback will be very challenged knowing that he's reading the concept and your eyes; make sure he doesn't follow your eyes to the first throw. They do a great job of taking some chances and making turnovers. That's how they've made their hay this year."
WR Rod Streater has listened closely to his offensive coordinator and is clear what type of defense he'll be facing. "They've got a pretty experienced secondary, obviously they just lost Webb but they've got a really, really got safety. He has great ball skills and it's going to be a challenge," said Streater. "He reads route combinations pretty good, so it's going to be a good challenge to go out there and go against one of the best in the league."
The Raiders want to continue their success in the passing game this week (Palmer threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns last week) and get their run game going. Meanwhile, the Raiders defense wants to improve their run defense when they face RB Ray Rice in Baltimore.
Despite giving up big yardage to RB Doug Martin of the Buccaneers in Week 9, Ravens Coach Harbaugh still recognizes the strengths of the Raiders defense. "They've got a real physical front," said Coach Harbaugh. "They're mammoth. They play really hard on defense. Philip Wheeler has just been all over the field for them – run defense, pass rush, pass coverage. I can mention every guy across the front, but obviously [Richard] Seymour is kind of the bell cow there. They've got plenty of guys that are tough to block."
Rice is a similar back to Martin and the Raiders will need to find a way to stop the fifth-year back out Rutgers. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver believes Rice is good at everything. "He can catch it. He puts his foot in the ground. He gets vertical," said Coach Tarver. "He puts his foot in the ground and gets vertical, which is one of the things that him and Doug did. The real good backs, they get vertical, they get what they can. He can catch the ball. His receiving stats since he's entered the league are outstanding. We have to account for him on all downs on those situations. He catches them in designed routes. He catches them on check-downs. He's a good back. He's a good back and they know how to use him."
LB Philip Wheeler knows Rice will be tough to stop, but also realizes the key is tackling. "I expect him to come down here, run, cutback runner and give it his all like he always does," said Wheeler. "We've just got to execute our plays, wrap up on our tackles and get the guy with the ball on the ground."
As effective a back as Rice is, the Ravens are also dangerous in the passing game with QB Joe Flacco and receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. "They've got Anquan, he's more of a physical route running guy, then they've got Smith, he's a fast guy, Jacoby Jones is a fast guy," explained SS Tyvon Branch. "They've got some good receivers. Ray Rice, he catches a lot of balls out of the backfield; that's been his thing since he's been in the league."
Coach Allen has had to prepare his team for a weapons-filled Ravens offense. "I think the quarterback is really good," said Coach Allen. "I think they've got Anquan Boldin, [who] is an experienced receiver; I think they've got some good tight ends that they can throw the ball to. Torrey Smith is an outstanding weapon down the field. Ray Rice is another talent that they have that they can use in the passing game, so I think when you've got a really good quarterback like they do and you've got some weapons it makes for a formidable challenge."
The defense has been preparing for an efficient and well-run offense. "The Ravens do a good job offensively," said Coach Tarver. "They understand how to change tempo. They understand who they are and what they are and the Ravens as an organization has done a very good job of knowing how to win football games. We have to understand how they do those things, changing tempo to run the ball and throw the ball, what kinds of routes they use, who runs what routes in their offense, and apply our rules to stop them. They do a nice job of knowing who they are, knowing who they are in that stadium, and understanding how to run and pass to win football games."
All facets of the Raiders defense will try to stop Flacco. "Stay close in coverage, give the D-line time to eat," said Branch on containing Flacco. "Then hopefully make some hits on him, get him to make some bad throws and stop that run game because we won't see a lot of Flacco if we can't stop the run game."
DE Andre Carter wants a chance to get after the quarterback. "[We need] great push in the middle and control the edges. Defensive ends can't be too far upfield because Flacco will exploit that opening, either he'll complete passes or he'll go for it because he is a fast runner."
The defensive line wants to have the upper hand against the Ravens offensive line. "It's going to be a physical game," said Carter. "Through my experience during those certain match-ups they've just always been a pound-for-pound type of team so it's important for us as defensive linemen to execute and have penetration and let the rest of the guys follow through and make tackles."
In addition to facing a Ravens offense and defense that has made it halfway through the season with a 6-2 record, the Raiders will also face Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium. "Obviously the environment to play in is a tough environment for a road team to go and play in but the biggest thing is they have got good players and they are well coached," said Coach Allen. "That is what really makes for home field advantage."
At the end of the day, wherever the game is played and whoever they're playing against, the Raiders know the outcome of the game will come down to execution. "We've just got to go out there and execute, don't let the crowd noise get to us; we practiced that this week," said Streater.