Ravens (6-5) @ Packers (7-4)
The Ravens roll into the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for a Monday Night contest against the Packers here in Week 13. Sunday’s NFL action was good news-bad news as far as the Ravens’ playoff hopes are concerned. Losing were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, and Tennessee Titans, all of whom are nipping at the Ravens heels in the “in the hunt” category. However, the wins by Denver and Jacksonville will help them keep the Ravens at arms-length for the Wild Card slots for now, even if the purple can win in Green Bay. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are suddenly both 6-6 as well, thanks to wins over New England and Buffalo, respectively.
In short, the Ravens need a win to keep pace.
That win will be no small feat, I’m afraid.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers 6th-ranked offense will provide quite a challenge for the Ravens’ defense. Despite being ranked #9 overall, Greg Mattison’s unit, as we Ravens fans know, can be exploited for big plays. They had the advantage of the raucous purple crowd in keeping Peyton Manning in check two weeks ago, and Pittsburgh’s inability to squeak out more than 17 points last Sunday may unfortunately be due more to Steelers’ offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ idiocy moreso than great play by Ray Lewis & Co.
Rodgers is no Dennis Dixon. The second-year starter has thrown an incredible 22 touchdowns to go along with just 5 interceptions (3 of which came in a loss to Tampa in Week 9), and his 104.9 quarterback rating trails only Brett Favre and Drew Brees. He has the kind of weapons on the outside that are sure to give the Ravens’ mediocre secondary fits all night, with Donald Driver (53 rec, 845 yards, 5 TD) and Greg Jennings (47, 722, 3). Unless Dominique Foxworth had some sort of breakthrough in the film room and practice this week (not to mention picking up some less-slippery cleats), we’re in trouble, B’More. Lardarius Webb has been a pleasant surprise at corner, but that still leaves at least three or four other guys in purple chasing green jerseys around Lambeau. Given the Ravens’ linebackers struggles in coverage this season, Rodgers may also find plenty of his tight ends, Donald Lee (30, 224, 1), and Jermichael Finley (27, 339, 1).
Further complicating things is the fact that the Ravens still can’t pressure quarterbacks consistently. They haven’t registered a sack in over eight full quarters, since the end of the Cleveland game. Terrell Suggs is not likely to play, so no help is coming from his end. Whatever Antwan Barnes did to tick off John Harbaugh, it’s about time for Johnny to get over it, as the Ravens are going to have to get after Rodgers to have a snowball’s chance.
If there is one potential bright spot, it’s that Rodgers has never had the pleasure of throwing into a secondary that has Ed Reed patrolling center field. A big game from Fast Eddie would certainly help things, though Rodgers is likely to be fresh off 10 straight days of having “Don’t throw to 20″ beaten into his head.
Things don’t get any easier when the Ravens have the ball. The Packers entered Week 13 as the number 1 overall defense in the NFL (the above chart reflects the New York Jets having taken over the top spot after allowing something like 180 yards to Buffalo last Thursday night). They are fourth in the league with 18 interceptions, with the seven of veteran cornerback Charles Woodson leading the way. Woodson is likely to match up with Derrick Mason Monday Night, and he has the ability to completely neutralize Joe Flacco’s favorite target.
Flacco had his best game to date against Pittsburgh last week, so hopefully he is starting to get a better grasp of the 3-4 in his sophomore season. Still, Joe is struggling in recent weeks, and some injury-related poor mechanics keep showing up as his passes sail and float far more than we are used to. The ankle/foot is likely going to persist through the season, unfortunately, so Flacco and the offense need to adjust accordingly.
The combination of a strong, ball-hawking secondary, along with Flacco’s recent struggles could mean that there is no better time than the present for Cam Cameron to rediscover the 3-headed rushing attack of 2008.
Yeah, I know: new year, new team, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Nonetheless, circumstances may dictate a return to old-school Ravens football. If necessity is the mother of creation, now is the time for Cameron to create some more yards on the ground. We saw a glimpse last week, as Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain picked up 28 yards on 4 carries, his most since the Denver game, before bruising some ribs. “Mighty Mouse” Ray Rice will continue to get the bulk of the load, as he should, but as the Ravens enter December with their quarterback nicked up and their defense struggling to get pressure and force turnovers, McClain and Willis McGahee should see more work. Keeping the ball out of Rodgers’ hands as much as possible will be crucial on Monday.
Rookie defensive tackle B.J. Raji is a space eater in the Packers’ #4 rush defense, and Matt Birk, Ben Grubbs, and the recently promoted Marshal Yanda will have their hands full opening up lanes for the monster to get through, no matter the number of heads Cam decides to put on it.
I was hoping for a blizzard in Wisconsin Monday Night. Some strong winds and snow could do wonders for the Ravens’ secondary’s ability to handle the Green Bay receiving corps. However, the current forecast calls for just 4-6 mph winds and a 10% chance of precipitation, along with temperatures in the low 20′s.
The Pack are coming off a 10-day layoff after a Thanksgiving Day thrashing of the hapless Lions. Basically, another game against a team that just had a bye week.
But hey, maybe the Pack will suffer a letdown from not having played in a “real” football game since November 22 against San Francisco?
Also, the Packers are 0-2 against purple teams this season, so maybe they’ll confuse us with a third match-up against the Vikings.
Alright, enough fishing.
There’s really no way to be realistically optimistic about this one. If the Ravens can put together a complete game against a strong team like Green Bay and pick up their first ever win at Lambeau, they will announce themselves as a force to be reckoned with down the stretch. Otherwise, it’s back into the 6-6 AFC quagmire with them, and a bunch of must-wins to round out the Holiday season.
The latter seems the likely scenario.
Packers 27 Ravens 16