Explosive offense meets dominating defense

The Rams host the Ravens in an interconference battle on ESPN's Sunday Night Football (8:30 p.m. ET).

Updated: November 7, 2003, 10:52 PM ET
By Joe Theismann | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN's Sunday night game between the St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) matches up foes with contrasting styles of football.

Offensively, St. Louis continues to favor the air attack with Marc Bulger and Torry Holt, while the Ravens pound opponents into submission on the ground with Jamal Lewis.

Defensively, the Rams play the "Tampa 2," which brings in corners as run support on the perimeter and the strong safety in the middle for protection. The Ravens play a base 4-3 defense that becomes a 3-4 if and when Peter Boulware stands up, and depending on defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's variations.

St. Louis Rams
Despite last week's 30-10 loss to the 49ers, the Rams still boast the NFL's No. 1 ranked offense. Bulger, who's yet to play an entire season, has been efficient and done a steady job of growing into Mike Martz's offense.

And despite rookie Arlen Harris being held to just eight yards on nine carries against the Niners, Harris and Lamar Gordon have had solid performances in place of Marshall Faulk. Harris was particularly effective in Week 8's matchup against the Steelers, running for 81 yards and three touchdowns. This week, he has split practice time with Faulk, who will be returning from a six-week, injury-riddled hiatus, and looking to make up for lost time.

Holt is having a Pro Bowl-like year. Going into last week's matchup against the Niners, Holt was on fire, catching 22 passes for 402 yards and five touchdowns in the three previous matchups. He then accumulated 200 yards and a touchdown against San Fran. and is in position to break the NFL's record for reception yardage (1,848).

Holt has recorded nine touchdowns this season, each of which has helped get the Rams on the right track. But to get to where they want to be, they're also going to need production from Isaac Bruce, who up to this point has been held to only one touchdown. In the past, Bruce has been the staple of the Rams' offense; he needs to become more of a factor.

The Rams need to get back to spreading the field and utilizing all of their viable weapons. Typically, the Rams like to take advantage of Faulk's versatility and utilize him in the pass as well as the run. Without Faulk, Martz has had to be creative while relying strictly on a wide receiver offense.

But as Faulk works himself back into the offense, the Rams should become more explosive and diverse.

Defensively, the Rams have had their bumps and bruises. But both Adam Archuleta and Jason Sehorn's status have been upgraded to probable.

Keys for the Rams:

1. Stop the Run
The Ravens aren't a perimeter running team which means, the onus will be on the Rams defense to fill gaps and tackle Lewis. The Rams have to be willing to put seven and eight guys in the box and force the Ravens to try to beat them with the pass.

2. Get Bruce involved
Bruce's involvement will be dependent on how much playing time Faulk gets in this game. Holt has been a star, but the Rams need to get the back to spreading the ball around and utilizing more weapons.

Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens formula for success is predicated on Jamal Lewis running the ball, Todd Heap making crucial catches, Kyle Boller managing the game, and the defense saving the game.

Their makeup is similar to that of the 2000 Super Bowl-winning Ravens. And at 5-3 at the midpoint, the Ravens are mirroring their last two playoff runs.

Kudos to rookie quarterback Boller. Although his stats are less than spectacular, he's done a great job of protecting the football and keeping mistakes to a minimum. Boller is getting better with each game. His on-the-job training has put him in position to become a solid quarterback in the future.

Boller also has the benefit of working behind the NFL's largest offensive line. Not only has it done a tremendous job of protecting the quarterback, it's also opened up the Ravens run game and allowed Lewis to have an unbelievable season. At 240 pounds, Lewis is a big back with speed, power and confidence. On pace for a 2,000-yard season, when Lewis puts on the pads, he knows he's getting the football.

Meanwhile, Heap balances out the offense with his big-play ability. Heap has been Boller's primary target with 29 catches for 398 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Defensively, Ray Lewis is still the most dominating linebacker in football, and while he garners most of the attention, Boulware has been a diamond in the rough.

The Ravens have 10 No. 1 draft picks starting almost every game. You've got to give credit to general manager Ozzie Newsome for finding and keeping talent.

Keys for the Ravens:

1. Pressure Bulger
The Rams like to run deeper routes than most teams which means Bulger needs to hold onto the ball a little longer. He can't be allowed to feel comfortable back there in the pocket. The Ravens need to pressure him and force him to get rid of the ball quickly.

2. Attack with the pass
The Rams will stack the box with seven- and eight-man fronts, so Boller has to make plays with his arm. Heap has been a great weapon, but wide receivers Frank Sanders and Travis Taylor will need to step up and win their matchups. If this game turns into a track meet, it won't favor the Ravens. They must keep this game close.

A game analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football, former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann won a Super Bowl and a league MVP award. He contributes regularly to ESPN.com.

Joe Theismann

Football analyst
Former college and pro football star Joe Theismann has served as an analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Football since 1988. He also is frequently heard on ESPN Radio, regularly contributes to ESPN.com and has contributed to the NFL Draft.

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