Whether you want to call it a letdown, a trap game, or simply coming out flat, the Ravens hope to avoid it all as they travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the struggling Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.
Coming off one of the biggest regular-season wins in the 16-year history of the franchise, players and coaches talked all week about the need to avoid taking a step back like they did in disappointing losses in Tennessee and Jacksonville earlier this season. And with the Seahawks having lost three straight games in which they’ve scored a combined 28 points, a loss to Seattle would certainly knock the Ravens down a peg or two after the emotional high of Pittsburgh.
Sunday marks the fourth all-time meeting between the Ravens and Seahawks, with Baltimore holding the 2-1 edge but losing its only trip to Seattle in 2007. The Ravens are 2-0 this season against the NFC West and have won five straight against the NFC and seven of their last eight. Under John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 10-4 against the NFC.
A win would give the Ravens their second 7-2 start in team history, the 2006 13-3 team being the other.
Here’s what to expect when the Ravens meet the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field …
1. The Ravens will commit to the running game with at least 30 attempts. Ranked only 22nd in rush offense, Baltimore needs to get its ground attack in order as the weather begins to sour in the final two months of the season. The return of Ben Grubbs figures to help, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron needs to commit to establishing the running game to avoid needing to go to the hurry-up offense on a regular basis. Sunday appears to be a decent time to do so as the Seahawks are ranked 13th in run defense and there is a chance of rain in the forecast. Ray Rice hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark on the ground since Week 6, and Sunday will snap that drought.
2. If Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is going to get his yards, he’ll need plenty of carries to do it. Despite ranking third in run defense, opponents have had some mild success in running the football against the Ravens in recent weeks, including Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew and Arizona’s Beanie Wells. Baltimore defenders have spoken highly of Lynch after he ran for 135 yards in a loss against Dallas last week, but the Seahawks rank 30th in run offense behind a porous offensive line. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks coaching staff are unlikely to trust quarterback Tarvaris Jackson against the Ravens’ fifth-ranked pass defense, so Seattle will likely give it to Lynch as much as possible. He may finish the day with 80-plus yards, but he’ll likely need 25 or more carries to do it.
3. Joe Flacco won’t throw for 300 yards again, but he’ll be efficient with a touchdown pass and, more importantly, no fumbles. The fourth-year quarterback became only the second player in Ravens history (Vinny Testaverde) to post back-to-back 300-yard games after leading a 92-yard drive in the closing minutes to beat Pittsburgh last week. His next 300-yard game will also give him the franchise’s career record for 300-yard games (he and Testaverde have eight) and a tie for the single-season record (five, Testaverde in 1996). However, Flacco’s current streak of fumbling in seven straight games is a major concern as the Ravens enter the second half of the schedule. As mentioned above, a commitment to the running game and a physical Seattle secondary will keep Flacco below 300 yards, but a fumble-free day would be more encouraging than anything he might accomplish in the air against the 18th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. In order for Flacco to do so, tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher must be aware of defensive end Chris Clemons, who leads Seattle with five sacks and will line up at either defensive end position.
4. Despite playing at home, the Seahawks will be hard pressed to score 13 points against the Ravens defense. Baltimore has said all the right things this week about the mobility of Jackson, the toughness of Lynch, and the big-play capability of wide receiver Sidney Rice, but the numbers don’t lie. Seattle ranks 29th in total offense, 30th in rush offense, 23rd in pass offense, 28th in third-down offense, and 28th in points per game. Aside from a 28-point day in a 30-28 loss to Atlanta at CenturyLink Field in Week 4, the Seahawks have produced 22 points in their other two home games. Their offensive line has allowed 29 sacks while the Baltimore defense has collected 26 this season. Aside from a couple Ravens turnovers in their own territory or a special teams score, it’s hard to fathom the Seahawks managing more than a couple scores against the Baltimore defense, which has allowed 65 points in their four road games this season. Yes, Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert — through little effort of his own — was able to beat the Ravens, but Jackson doesn’t have the same type of defense backing him in this matchup.
5. Baltimore will not allow a repeat of what happened against the Titans and Jaguars and will collect a 23-13 win over Seattle. It’s not a layup by any stretch — no games in the NFL should be treated as such — but if the Ravens haven’t gotten the message about getting up emotionally against lesser opponents, it will remain an issue for the rest of the season. Going west into a loud atmosphere is a challenge, but as Harbaugh said on Friday, bringing a good team on the trip can squash any conventional thinking about going to the West Coast and playing in a loud stadium. The Ravens have proven on several occasions how great they can be and will ease concerns about playing down to the level of their competition by controlling the tempo in a benign 10-point victory in Seattle. The Seahawks cannot score points and do not have a defense that’s good enough to make up for it against the surging Ravens.