RAVENS PASSING GAME: The Ravens enter the game last in the NFL in passing yards and with mounting questions about why they haven’t opened up their aerial attack more. Joe Flacco has not thrown a touchdown pass in four of his 11 games this year and he’s last among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per completion. Tight end Benjamin Watson, the team’s leading receiver, is averaging less than 8 yards per reception. The Ravens are the second worst team in the NFL on third downs.
LIONS PASSING GAME: Matthew Stafford suffered an ankle injury during the Lions’ Thanksgiving Day loss, but he’s set for his 108th consecutive regular-season start. Marvin Jones Jr. has emerged as Stafford’s go-to guy on a talented receiving corps that also features the tough-to-corral Golden Tate. Jones’ eight touchdown receptions are the second most in the NFL, and Stafford is tied for the league lead in 40-plus-yard completions. Stafford can make all the throws, but he’s lost six fumbles and been sacked 36 times.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Running between the tackles was a struggle in Monday night’s victory over the Houston Texans, but the Ravens found success getting Alex Collins to the outside. Their 139 rushing yards against a stout Houston run defense were their fourth most this season. Collins has touchdowns in back-to-back games as he continues to get the lion’s share of snaps in the backfield. Terrance West, a healthy scratch the past two weeks, could re-enter the game plan this week. He’s practicing well.
LIONS RUNNING GAME: The Lions continue to struggle to generate a consistent run game. They rank 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (78.3) and yards per carry (3.4), and 27th in attempts (256). Only two NFL teams have fewer than their four rushing touchdowns. They’ve also gone 63 consecutive games without having a 100-yard rusher. Ameer Abdullah, a second-round draft pick in 2015, is the lead back. Theo Riddick is more of a receiving threat out of the backfield.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: In the past four weeks, the Ravens have allowed 257 total rushing yards. That’s 64.25 yards per game. The early-season struggles stopping the run are no longer a factor. They’re succeeding in making teams one-dimensional and putting the opposition into second- and third-and-longs. Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis and Willie Henry are getting penetration up front and allowing inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor to roam free.
LIONS RUSH DEFENSE: Haloti Ngata’s season-ending biceps injury has taken a toll on the run defense which ranks 24th in the NFL. With the ex-Raven in the middle, the Lions gave up just 373 rushing yards over their first five games. In six games without Ngata, they’ve surrendered 905. In last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings, they allowed 136 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Linebackers Tahir Whitehead and rookie first-round pick Jarrad Davis are Detroit’s top tacklers.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens lead the league with 18 interceptions, they are second in fewest passing yards allowed (190) and they are tied for ninth in sacks (30). Terrell Suggs has led the charge with 9½ sacks and four forced fumbles. Nine Ravens have interceptions. The Ravens made clear this week that they’ll have to be much more disciplined and sound in coverage against the Lions than they were against Houston. The Ravens need a steadier pass rush beyond Suggs and Matthew Judon.
LIONS PASS DEFENSE: A Lions team that has struggled defensively just lost starting safety Tavon Wilson to a season-ending injury. The good news for them is their top pass rusher, Ezekiel Ansah, is getting healthier and had a sack last week. They also recently signed veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney to add juice to their pass rush. He’s expected to debut Sunday. Darius Slay and Glover Quin are quality defensive backs, and Detroit knows how to take the ball away. The Lions have five defensive touchdowns.
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RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Strong special teams performances have factored prominently in the Ravens winning three of the past four games. Punter Sam Koch put on a clinic against the Texans, converting a successful fake, putting five of six punts inside the 20-yard line and averaging 51.9 yards per punt. His 29 punts inside the 20 lead the league. Kicker Justin Tucker is 23 of 26 on field-goal attempts this season and has made 20 of his past 21. Chris Moore has given the Ravens a boost the past two weeks on kick returns.
LIONS SPECIAL TEAMS: This is a very productive group in every facet. But rookie Jamal Agnew, who has two special teams touchdowns, won’t play Sunday because of a knee injury. T.J. Jones and Golden Tate are expected to handle return duties in his place. Veteran kicker Matt Prater, a Pro Bowl selection last year, has made seven field goals from 50 yards or longer. Detroit has already blocked three kicks this season.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have gotten their swagger back in recent weeks and seem to understand they have little margin of error the rest of the way. John Harbaugh’s team is 15-4 against NFC teams at home since 2008. The Ravens are also 2-0 against the Lions under Harbaugh. The Ravens played Monday and are on a short week. However, the team’s health is relatively good for this point of the season. Suggs implored the home fans to be loud Sunday and make things difficult for the Lions.
LIONS INTANGIBLES: Like the Ravens, the Lions are in near must-win territory with their NFC North title chances slipping away. They hope that sense of urgency translates into a faster start as they’ve been outscored 73-30 in first quarters this season. The Lions are 4-1 on the road this season. Coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are both former Ravens assistants who know Flacco’s strengths and weaknesses, so that knowledge should help with their game plan.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have gotten away with substandard offensive performances this season because their defense has forced turnovers and mostly kept teams out of the end zone. However, the defense takes a step up in class against Stafford and a talented receiving corps. The Lions have scored 23 or more points in six of their past seven games, so expecting the Ravens to shut them down is asking a lot. The Ravens are going to have to sustain drives and put up points to beat the Lions and it’s just tough to foresee them doing that with how poorly the offense is playing. Lions, 26-17