How do the Ravens win two straight for the first time since the 3-0 start? How does Baltimore counteract the expected cold temperatures and possible snow in Lambeau Field? Can The Ravens’ slow down defensive demon Charles Woodson enough to win? Potential answers are here.
Last Sunday, the Ravens played the Steelers without either Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu, but Pittsburgh, behind unheralded QB Dennis Dixon, took the game into overtime where Baltimore finally prevailed. The Packers, meanwhile, systematically took apart Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
The Ravens know the Packers have Woodson trolling the defensive backfield when Joe Flacco throws the ball. But, Flacco is sailing some of his passes, a sign that he is not setting up properly on his feet to throw. So, his mobility is an issue. If the Ravens run, Woodson could move up into run coverage or blitz to force Flacco to make quick reads.
The Packers know that the Ravens defensive front will test a offensive line that was shredded for 41 sacks in the first nine games, but has held up with just three allowed in the last two games to San Francisco and Detroit.
So, Monday’s matchup has a pair of clubs fighting to stay in their respective Wild Card races. And it will come down to which team’s offensive line plays better. Here is the breakdown:
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Ravens offense: The Ravens finally scored a first half TD for the first time since Oct. 11. In fact, Baltimore scored the most first-half points since Week 3 vs. Cleveland. The Ravens will need early points this week, as it will be very cold (low 20s at night), and ball security on runs will a big key as the Packers lead the league with a +17 turnover margin. Baltimore will try to pound the ball often to make the game a test of wills.
The last two games, Baltimore has thrown more than run, but when the Ravens do run the ball, they will have to be better than the mid-3 yards per rush in the four games prior to Pittsburgh. If the Ravens can average 4.6 a rush, as they did last week, they have a good chance to win.
Many media are touting Woodson as a potential Defensive Player of the Year. He is as important to the Packers as Ray Lewis has been for the Ravens. Woodson has two sacks, seven interceptions and four forced fumbles, and is a punishing tackler.
Baltimore got away from the two-man game between Flacco and RB Ray Rice last week, as they tried to distribute the ball around more. WR Derrick Mason had 10 targeted passes thrown his way, the second straight week he had double digits in targets this season. WR Mark Clayton was targeted 10 times, his first double-digit game in that category since the New England game. On the other hand, TE Todd Heap has been targeted just twice each in the last two games, after four or more targets in eight of the previous nine games.
Rice is still the go-to guy in the Ravens offense, but Woodson’s presence, especially in the middle of the field, will have to be accounted for when Flacco looks for him on short tosses out of the backfield..
When Flacco throws, the Packers have allowed an NFL worst 20.1 yards per play on passes deep middle (15+ yards). Green Bay smothers passes thrown short right (less than 15 yards) averaging just 4.2 yards allowed. The Ravens can also run up the middle, as the Pack gives up 4.6 yards (22nd in the NFL).
Baltimore needs long drives to eat clock and batter the Packers defensive line. The Ravens were less predictable last week on first down, but weather conditions could force conservative calls from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Ravens defense: Lewis is still banged up, and thanks to an agressive defensive effort against Dixon in the first half, the Ravens were able to contain the Steelers passing game. In the second half, Baltimore pulled back as Dixon seemed to lock on his first receiver, and finally an interception in OT by Paul Kruger set up the victory. This week, a much better QB with his weapons will test the secondary.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been under siege because of the O-line troubles. But, despite the battering, he has completed over 70 percent of his passes five times, including each of the last two games. He has 22 TDs against just five interceptions, three of which came in the loss to Tampa Bay.
Rodgers will take shots downfield against the Ravens. WR Donald Driver had seven catches (on 10 targets) for 142 yards last week against Detroit, while Greg Jennings has had three 100-yard receiving games. The Ravens have to keep an eye on TE Jermichael Finley, who had 42 yards on three receptions last week. The Packers rank in the top seven in the NFL on average gain on short passes in all directions (left-6.9, middle-8.7 and right-6.1), and are in the top 10 in average gain on 15+ yard throws to deep left (16.2) and right (12.8). Rodgers is second in the NFL in completions of 40+ yards (13). Veteran Ed Reed is expected to play on Monday night, and that would help the Ravens D in pass coverage.
Only twice this season have the Packers run more than they have thrown. RB Ryan Grant has 890 yards and five TDs, while Rodgers has 247 yards and three scores when he gets out of the pocket. The Ravens have had plenty of issues trying to defend plays on the edges this season, and the Packers could spread the field and force Lewis to make plays laterally. Rushing-wise, Green Bay has run the 7th-most plays to left end (45) and the third-most to right end (54) in the league.
Special teams: Both Baltimore and Green Bay are the among the most-penalized special teams units in the league, as the Packers are first in total special teams flags, and the Ravens are tied for fourth. Baltimore kickoff returner Lardarius Webb averages 27 yards per return, while Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson has a 25.5 average. Green Bay has a solid punt returner in Tramon Williams (10.4 per return). Mason Crosby is one of the top kickers in the league, while Billy Cundiff has been a very welcome addition at kicker for the Ravens, after the early struggles with Steve Hauschka.
PREDICTION: Despite the win over Pittsburgh, the Ravens have labored in recent weeks on offense. Green Bay traditionally becomes more of a run-based team when the weather turns cold, but the temptation to test the Ravens secondary might be too much for the Packers here. The Packers have two consecutive games of controlling the ball for 40+ minutes on offense. The Ravens looked very tired on defense in the second half against Pittsburgh in a physical game, and the tackling showed it. If Green Bay controls the line of scrimmage and the clock, the Ravens might be in catch-up mode much of the night. This might be a run-fest on both sides, but Rodgers has a better chance to find his passing playmakers than Flacco does when the time comes. The Ravens will give a strong fight, but will fall short. Packers 21, Ravens 17.