This is not the Atlanta Falcons team the Baltimore Ravens, or anyone else in the NFL, anticipated at the start of the season. The defending NFC champions are reeling from an 0-3 start. Their starting quarterback, Chris Chandler, is doubtful because of a strained hamstring. Their starting running back, Jamal Anderson, is out for the season. Their defensive line is riddled with injuries.
And the way the Ravens see it, that will make Atlanta a much more dangerous opponent than its record would indicate when the teams meet today at the Georgia Dome.
"They're definitely in a corner," Baltimore defensive end Michael McCrary said. "It's going to be a battle. Any time a team is 0-3 coming off a Super Bowl, the last thing they want to do is go 0-4. They're going to give everything they have to get out of that situation."
The Ravens (1-2) are coming off their first victory of the season, 17-10 over the expansion Cleveland Browns in Stoney Case's debut as Baltimore's starting quarterback. Although his passing statistics were unimpressive--12 of 25 for 165 yards with three interceptions--Case showed good mobility. He rushed for 57 yards and twice scored on one-yard runs.
Most of Case's mistakes were typical for a quarterback making his second NFL start. On Tuesday, the players' day off, he sat down with Coach Brian Billick to review every throw he made against the Browns.
"Mainly, I wanted to hear what he had to say," Billick said. "I wanted to hear what he saw, just to get a feel for what his perspective was. . . . Every bit of data we have for both him and me to look at and decide what he does best, we should get better with every time. So I imagine he's going to be better this week than he was last week."
The Falcons likely will try to pressure Case the way Cleveland did--with blitzes. However, Atlanta's pass rush has been miserable this season. The Falcons have only two sacks, as tackles Shane Dronett, Ed Jasper and Travis Hall have been bothered by injuries.
If Chandler can't play, Tony Graziani will make the fourth start of his three-year NFL career. Graziani threw for 152 yards and his first career touchdown last week against the Rams, after Chandler started but couldn't finish the first half.
It will be the third time this season that the Ravens have faced an unfamiliar quarterback. Although they were effective against Cleveland's Tim Couch, they struggled against St. Louis' Kurt Warner, who threw for 316 yards against Baltimore in his first NFL start.
"You may have to be extra disciplined because you don't know really what to expect from a guy like that," linebacker Peter Boulware said.
Although the Falcons are 0-3, the Ravens say their situation also is precarious. "We need this game bad," Boulware said. "This is our most important game. We've got to get this, get to 2-2."
RAVENS VS. FALCONS
When: 1 p.m., Georgia Dome.
Radio: WLIF-FM-101.9, WSMD-FM-98.3, WJFK-1300, WXTR-820.
Line: Falcons by 3.