By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
8:00 AM EDT, October 11, 2013
RAVENS PASSING GAME: In the Ravens’ three wins, quarterback Joe Flacco has been more game manager than prolific passer, averaging 217 passing yards and throwing for one touchdown. Help for Flacco should be on the way with Eugene Monroe’s insertion into the starting lineup at left tackle and the potential return of wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown. The one constant for Flacco has been Torrey Smith who is third in the NFL with 556 receiving yards. Red-zone production has been an issue.
PACKERS PASSING GAME: Outside of the Denver Broncos, the Packers may have the most dangerous passing attack that the Ravens will face all year. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a master of getting the ball out quickly and putting it only where his receivers can get it. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb have combined for 67 catches for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns. If there is a weakness here, Rodgers has been sacked 11 times. That bodes well for the Ravens.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: It constituted a major breakthrough for the Ravens when they rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of last week’s narrow win over the Miami Dolphins. Still, they averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and they rank 20th in the NFL in yards per game (77.8) and 31st in yards per attempt (2.7). The Ravens need more explosiveness and better ball security from Ray Rice who is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and he’s lost two fumbles in four games this year.
PACKERS RUNNING GAME: The Packers have relied almost exclusively on Rodgers’ right arm in recent seasons but that’s no longer the case. They are fifth in the NFL in average rushing yards per game (141.0) and second in yards per attempt (5.3). They’ve rushed for at least 135 rushing yards in three straight games for the first time since 2006. Leading rusher James Starks (knee) has been declared out for the game but rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin look capable of carrying the load.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: When the Buffalo Bills rushed for more than 200 yards against them two weeksago, the Ravens maintained that they weren’t concerned about their run defense. They then went out last Sunday and held the Dolphins to just 22 yards on 11 carries. The Ravens have held teams to 89.8 rushing yards per game, the sixth lowest total in the NFL. Known for his pass-rushing ability, linebacker Terrell Suggs may be playing the best run defense of his career. He’s second on the team with 36 tackles.
PACKERS RUSH DEFENSE: This group hasn’t let up much, holding the opposition to 86.0 rushing yards per game, the fifth lowest total in the NFL, and 3.7 yards per carry, the seventh lowest. The Packers are huge up front with Pro Bowl performer B.J. Raji (337 pounds) and Johnny Jolly (325) at defensive ends and Ryan Pickett (340) at nose tackle. They get penetration and keep blockers off of leading tacker A.J. Hawk. Starting middle linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) has been ruled out.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens’ ability to generate a pass rush with their front four, which would allow them to drop more men in coverage, may be the key to the game. That’s been a strength so far as they are second in the league with 19 sacks. The Ravens are allowing 245.6 yards per game passing, ranking them in the middle of the pack. Much-maligned cornerback Jimmy Smith is having a strong season, but he’ll undoubtedly be tested by double moves and back-shoulder throws.
PACKERS PASS DEFENSE: Teams have attacked the Packers’ secondary and gotten pretty good results. The Packers have allowed 288.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 26th in NFL, and now they’ll be without their top pass rusher, Clay Matthews, for the foreseeable future because of a broken thumb. His absence leaves 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry and Mike Neal as Green Bays’ primary two edge rushers. Both corners — Tramon Williams and Sam Shields — have good ball skills.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens’ special teams are coming off an uneven performance. Against the Dolphins, Justin Tucker hit all four of his field-goal attempts, including the 44-yard game winner. Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss had a few solid returns but the Ravens cost themselves field position with a couple of dumb penalties and punter Sam Koch averaged just 34.2 yards on five punts. The Ravens have rendered opposing returners non factors, relying on Tucker’s strong leg and Koch’s directional punting.
PACKERS SPECIAL TEAMS: After nearly losing his job last year because of 12 misses in 33 field-goal attempts, kicker Mason Crosby has rewarded Green Bay’s faith by connecting on all nine of his attempts this season. He’s made 13 straight regular-season field goals dating back to last year. Punter Tim Masthay has proved adept at landing balls inside the 20 and shutting down the opposing return game. Cobb has three career touchdown returns but none this year.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: It may have no bearing this week, but the Ravens have been nearly unbeatable in these situations. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 10-0 at home against NFC teams. They’ve won 13 straight such games, the NFL’s longest home winning streak by one conference versus another. They have also won 26 of their last 29 regular-season games at M&T Bank Stadium. With several key players expected to return, the Ravens are as healthy as they’ve been all season.
PACKERS INTANGIBLES: Like the Ravens, the Packers are still battling inconsistency and they’ve been surprisingly enigmatic on the road, where they are 0-2 this year. They’ve given up 68 total points in those two games while also turning the ball over six times. Their recent history suggests they’ll turn that around. Entering the season, Green Bay had won 11 of its last 16 road games. The Packers are battle tested having gone to the playoffs four consecutive seasons, but injuries have hit them hard this year.
PREDICTION: Motivated by a matchup against a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and helped by a healthier receiving corps, Flacco will have a big day against the Packers and it still won’t be enough. The Ravens have worked hard to distance themselves from the Week 1 defensive disaster against the Broncos. However, Rodgers will reopen some of those wounds. In a shootout, the Packers will have the ball last and Rodgers will take his team down the field and deliver the Ravens a rare home loss.
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