For much of the season, we have asked the Ravens about the need to generate more chunk passing plays down the field. Perhaps just as much of an emphasis should have been placed on the need to prevent them.
Surprisingly, no defense has allowed more passing plays of 40-plus yards than the Ravens, who have been beaten for 16 of them in 13 games. Yet the Ravens have only given up 40 plays of 20-plus yards, which is 12th-best in the league. So when the Ravens have had pass defense breakdowns, they have been big ones.
The timing of those breakdowns has been an even big issue, as they have tended to happen late in games.
In the Week 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a 52-yard catch-and-run by tight end Jermichael Finley after he slipped out of free safety Matt Elam's grasp sealed the game.
There was a 46-yard pass to Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little in the fourth quarter of a Week 9 loss. Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green caught a Hail Mary at the end of regulation in a Week 10 overtime win. And Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett set up the game-winning field goal in Week 11 with a 43-yard reception in overtime.
The screen pass that went for a 79-yard touchdown to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the final minute of Sunday's 29-26 win was the latest, though that pass was caught behind the line of scrimmage. The Ravens were unable to wrap up Patterson early and the elusive rookie made Elam fall down in the open field.
Now the Ravens are going up against the Detroit Lions, who rank seventh in the NFL with 10 receptions of 40 or more yards. Calvin Johnson has produced five of them.
Oh, and Elam rattled Johnson's cage on Wednesday by calling him old. Johnson lit up Elam on a conference call Thursday. He'll look to burn him on the field Monday night.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense will have opportunities in the deep passing game, too, as the Lions defense has allowed 14 passing plays of 40-plus yards, second to only the Ravens.
But avoiding big breakdowns against Johnson and the Lions may be even more important -- especially in the final minutes of the game -- if the Ravens are to win this pivotal game.