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Appearing to be healthier than they’ve been at any point since the start of the 2013 season, the Ravens welcome arguably their toughest opponent at home as the Green Bay Packers visit M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2005.
Eleven Ravens players are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, but most are expected to play while the Packers have already ruled out five players for Week 6, including starting linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones and No. 3 cornerback Casey Hayward. Other than injured tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens could have their full collection of offensive players available, which would be a welcome development for quarterback Joe Flacco.
It’s time to go on the record as the Packers seek their first road victory of the season in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first start ever in Baltimore while the Ravens haven’t topped Green Bay since the 2005 season in what was a lopsided 48-3 victory over Brett Favre in a Monday night affair. The Packers lead the all-time series with a 3-1 record and will play in Baltimore for only the second time in the 18-year history of the Ravens.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to improve to 11-0 at home against NFC opponents in the John Harbaugh era …
1. Eugene Monroe and Jacoby Jones will flash upside for the Ravens offense, but inconsistency will again plague that side of the ball. Few would dispute that Monroe provides a clear upgrade over veteran Bryant McKinnie, but expecting him to step into the starting lineup without any growing pains for an offensive line that’s already struggled this season seems like wishful thinking. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell uses Jones and a full allotment of wide receivers, but the Ravens could fall into the trap of trying to get too many wideouts involved instead of identifying what’s working best. Aside from the Buffalo game, Flacco has done an admirable job of holding up behind a porous offensive line and trying to make plays with few weapons, but the Ravens haven’t been able to put their offensive together for a full 60 minutes against anyone this season and that will continue at least another week.
2. Torrey Smith will become the first Ravens receiver since Qadry Ismail to go over 100 receiving yards for a third straight game. With running back Ray Rice working his way back to 100 percent and not showing the same explosiveness of past years, the third-year wide receiver Smith has become the Ravens’ most dynamic offensive player as he’s recorded at least 85 receiving yards in every game this season. Smith provides matchup problems for the Packers secondary as the Ravens will try to feature speedy options such as Jones or Deonte Thompson on the opposite side of the formation to keep safeties M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett honest. As much as experts and fans have pointed to giving the ball to Rice to keep the Packers offense off the field, aggression will be the key if the Ravens offense hopes to score enough points to be in position to win late in the second half and support a defense that will have its hands full.
3. Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley will go over 150 yards combined as the Ravens struggle to defend the middle of the field. The Ravens had no answers for defending Denver slot receiver Wes Welker in Week 1 and Cobb presents a more explosive threat that will be a challenge for nickel cornerback Corey Graham. Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith will try to hold their own against Jordy Nelson and James Jones, but the Ravens have often struggled against tight ends this season and Finley is a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties, especially inside the red zone. The Ravens defense has largely been effective this season, but the secondary has given up too many big plays and there are too many weapons in the Green Bay offense to prevent at least a few more from happening on Sunday.
4. Terrell Suggs will set a franchise record with a sack in a sixth consecutive game, but Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will escape enough pressure to go over the 300-yard passing mark. The rush linebacker has been a one-man wrecking crew this season and will have an opportunity to wreak havoc on Rodgers with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari protecting the blindside. The Packers allowed 10 sacks in their first three games but protected Rodgers well last week with only one sack given up against the Lions. The Ravens will provide pressure, but Rodgers’ mobility allows him to escape and extend plays as his talented receivers break off routes and lose defenders in coverage. Green Bay ranks fifth in the league in rush offense but likes to run the ball out of spread-out formations, which won’t work consistently against a talented front seven. As a result, the Packers will throw plenty and the Ravens will apply a respectable amount of pressure, but Rodgers will get away just enough to make some big plays against a vulnerable secondary.
5. The Packers win the battle inside the red zone as Baltimore’s 13-game home winning streak against NFC opponents comes to an end in a 27-23 final. The winner of this game will be more efficient inside the 20 on both sides of the ball as the Ravens need to try to hold Green Bay to field goals while converting their trips inside the red zone into touchdowns. Flacco and the offense have a favorable matchup against a banged-up Packers defense, but they haven’t shown consistency all season and that will have to wait at least another week as they adjust to Monroe at left tackle and a full group of wideouts still trying to establish roles in the passing game. Facing the toughest offense since the season-opening debacle in Denver, the Ravens defense will have a respectable showing but isn’t good enough to shut down the Packers entirely. Judging on their entire body of work this season, I just don’t have enough faith in the Ravens offense to score the necessary points and don’t see enough stops from the Baltimore defense, giving a slight edge to the Packers in a close game.