RAVENS PASSING GAME: Joe Flacco has thrown two touchdown passes in three of his past four games, but he continues to struggle with his accuracy and decision making. His 11 interceptions are one shy of tying a career high. He’s also been sacked 30 times this season. The poor pass protection is one reason that the Ravens have had trouble connecting on deep passes. Torrey Smith, who was targeted 14 times last week, could benefit from the absence of Bears’ cornerback Charles Tillman.
BEARS PASSING GAME: Josh McCown doesn’t have the arm strength or the quick release of Jay Cutler, who is out with an ankle injury. But he’s done well managing the offense, completing 60 percent of his passes, throwing no interceptions and getting the ball to the Bears’ playmakers. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have been the league’s most productive wide receiver duo, combining for 107 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. An overhauled offensive line has allowed just 14 sacks.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Each week brings more frustration for the Ravens’ rushing attack. Their 73.1 rushing yards per game ranks 30th in the NFL and their 2.8 yards per carry average ranks last. Ray Rice’s 2.5 yards per carry average is the lowest in the league among running backs. Rice could lose some carries to backup Bernard Pierce who ran hard last week. If the Ravens can’t run the ball against the Bears’ porous defense, it’s a safe bet that they won’t be able to run the ball against anyone.
BEARS RUNNING GAME: Matt Forte, who was selected 11 picks ahead of Ray Rice in the second round of the 2008 draft, is having another strong year. He’s seventh in the league with 691 rushing yards to go along with seven touchdowns. He also is a threat out of the backfield with 44 catches. Overall, the Bears are averaging 111 rushing yards per game, which ranks 15th in the NFL. With McCown at the helm, Forte figures to be the focal point of the Ravens’ defensive plans.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens gave up 120 rushing yards to the Cincinnati Bengals last week but they got stops when they needed them. They have allowed a league-low one rushing touchdown this season and they’ve now gone five straight games without allowing a touchdown on the ground. For the season, the Ravens are giving up 102.6 rushing yards per game, the 10th best mark in the NFL. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata’s health bears watching after he tweaked his knee last week.
BEARS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens hapless running game may finally meet its match. The Bears’ run defense ranks 31st in the NFL, allowing 129.4 rushing yards per game. Chicago has permitted 10 rushing touchdowns and an opposing back to eclipse the 100-yard mark in five of its nine games. Season-ending injuries to defensive tackle Henry Milton and middle linebacker D.J. Williams, along with the recent absence of weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs, have left the Bears vulnerable.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: With three interceptions and five sacks, the Ravens played one of their best defensive games of the season last week and it was keyed by the secondary. Cornerback Lardarius Webb was all over the field and Jimmy Smith continued to play well. Both will have their hands full this week matching up with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The Ravens have at least two sacks in 17 straight games. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have combined for 17.5 of the team’s 32 sacks.
BEARS PASS DEFENSE: Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was put on injured reserve with a designation to return on Monday, another blow to a struggling defense. Veteran Zack Bowman will start in his place, opposite Tim Jennings, who has 12 interceptions over the past two seasons. Starting free safety Chris Conte’s play has been highly scrutinized, especially in run support. The Bears have just 14 sacks this season with Julius Peppers being held to two.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field goal in overtime to beat the Bengals was his 16th straight make. He is 18-of-20 on the season. Sam Koch had a bounce-back game, putting three punts inside the 20. While Tandon Doss is second in the NFL in average yards per punt return (16.1), kick returner Jacoby Jones has had limited opportunities to make a big play. The Ravens could use one to help out their slumping offense.
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS: Return man Devin Hester may not be as dangerous as he once was, but his resume alone strikes fear with the opposition. Hester is one of seven players in NFL history with 3,000 punt return yards and 4,000 kickoff return yards. Hester’s 19 career return touchdowns tie him with Deion Sanders for the most in NFL history. Robbie Gould is 16-of-17 on field-goal attempts this season, solidifying his reputation as one of the NFL’s best kickers.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens’ issues this season have been more pronounced on the road, where they are 1-4 this season and have scored 20 points or fewer in three of those games. The Ravens have yet to find a way to jump start their offense, gaining under 300 yards for three straight games. After losing three straight games, the Ravens are hoping that the victory over Cincinnati is the spark they need. They are pretty healthy for this time of year but penalties and turnovers remain issues.
BEARS INTANGIBLES: After winning their first three games, the Bears have hit some turbulence under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, losing four of their past six games. Injuries have taken a toll, specifically on a defense that is ranked 26th in the NFL. However, the Bears have done a good job of not beating themselves. They have a plus-eight turnover ratio, tied for the fourth best in the NFL. They also have committed the fourth fewest penalties in the league. They are 3-2 at Soldier Field this season.
PREDICTION: If the Ravens are able to run the football and sustain drives on offense, this should be a game that they win. The Bears have one of the worst defenses that they’ll play all year and the group was further weakened by the injury to Tillman. However, the Ravens just have no offensive momentum. Flacco hasn’t played a strong game in about a month and the running game hasn’t done anything but spin its wheels all season. Even with a backup quarterback at the helm, the Bears’ offense is the better bet to go down the field late in the game and get the winning score.
Bears, 27-24Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun