Ravens-Packers Last Minute Look
The Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens will do battle today on the soggy tundra at M&T Bank Stadium in the Charm City. For the Ravens, today’s game is an opportunity to prove their Week 1. embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos receiving corps and elite QB was simply a blip on the defending champs radar. For Green Bay, today’s tilt is a chance to come into one of the toughest venues in the NFL and once again lend credibility to their claim that they are the team to beat in the NFC North and the NFC for that matter, by beating the Ravens at home.
Last week, kicker Justin Tucker kicked a game-winning 44-yard field goal with 1:42 left in the contest, as the Ravens rebounded for a 26-23 victory at Miami last Sunday. It was Tucker’s fourth FG (42, 50 and 25 yards) of the game. The Dolphins took a 13-6 halftime lead, but the Ravens dominated the third quarter, holding the ball for over 11 minutes and jumping back ahead for a 16-13 edge. Baltimore produced three-consecutive scoring drives in the second half to take a 23-13 lead. Miami bounced right back, scoring 10 points in a minute and 45 seconds to tie the game at 23 with eight minutes to play but OLB Terrell Suggs stepped up and played with a little sizzle. Suggs recorded three sacks in the final quarter.
The Ravens sort of got their much-maligned rushing attack back on track last week, as RB Ray Rice rushed for 74 yards, scored 2 touchdowns and added 28 more yards with six catches.
The Packers beat the visiting Lions, 22-9, last Sunday at Lambeau Field. Green Bay, which had its bye weekend prior to this victory, opened the season with a 34-28 loss at San Francisco, beat the Redskins (38-20) in Week 2 and then lost at Cincinnati, 34-30. This will be the first of four games against the NFC North for the Ravens this season. Baltimore will also play at Chicago (Nov. 17) and Detroit (Dec. 16) and host the Vikings on Dec. 8.
Today’s game will be only the fifth meeting between the two teams. In their last meeting back in December of 2009, the Ravens turned the ball over four times one from the Packers’ 3-yard line in the fourth quarter – in a Monday Night Football 27-14 loss at Green Bay.
Winning today will not be easy for Green Bay. Beating the John Harbaugh led Raves at M&T Bank Stadium is a rarity in the NFL these days. Since Harbs arrived in 2008, the Ravens have won 26 of their last 29 regular season home games and are 35-7 in games played in Baltimore under Harbaugh, ranking as the NFL’s second-best home mark since the 08 season.
The biggest reason for the success is the play of the Ravens defense, which will have to be as on top of their game today as they have ever been. Since the arrival Harbaugh and with four different defensive coordinators, (Rex Ryan, Greg Mattison, Chuck Pagano & Dean Pees), Baltimore has allowed an NFL best, 14.8 pts. per game at home. The Ravens have forced 56 interceptions, which is second most in the NFL at home (GB is first with 69) and held opposing signal callers to a paltry 67.3 quarterback rating over the last five years.
Teams are averaging just 285.5 total yards per contest during this time, which is third behind the Steelers and Jets. While many of the names and faces have changed that helped put up these stingy defensive stats, the results will need to be similar if the Ravens are going to slow down Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers high-powered offense today.
The 2011 league MVP is easily considered what Ravens QB Joe Flacco wants to become, an elite NFL signal caller. In 89 NFL regular season games, Rodgers is averaging 258.3 passing yards per contest and has thrown 180 touchdown passes, which translates to two per contest. He owns the highest passer rating in the league during the last two years, and his career 105 rating is the best in NFL history. This season, Rodgers has a 66.4 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, three interceptions and a 105.5 rating. He leads an offense that averages an NFL-best 6.99 yards on first-down plays. He is also the highest paid player in the NFL, as the Packers rewarded his work this past offseason with a five-year, $110 million salary.
The beneficiary of Rodgers quick release and great pocket vision are his trio of wide receivers. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb have combined for 67 catches for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns so far in 2013. Nelson leads the team with 23 receptions for a team-high 379 yards and three of the seven WR’s TDs. The Pack also possess one of those athletic tight ends that give the Ravens so much trouble. Jermichael Finley has 153 yards and two touchdowns this season and will give the Ravens safeties fits if they let him.
In all, the Packers offense ranks third in the NFL with 453.3 ypg, including the fourth-ranked passing attack (312.3 ypg). The Packers are averaging 29.5 points per contest, the league’s third-best mark.
The Packers rushing attack is most certainly a running back by committee approach. However, they are fifth in the NFL in average rushing yards per game (141.0) and second in yards per attempt (5.3). After not having a running back to lean for several seasons in Green Bay, the Packers have rushed for at least 135 rushing yards in three straight games for the first time since 2006. Their leading rusher, James Starks (knee) has been declared out for the game. After starting five different running backs in 2012, GM Ted Thompson drafted two more last April in hopes of adding stability to the position. The Ravens will likely see plenty of both today. Rookies Eddie Lacy (Alabama) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) have combined to rush for 254-yards and two touchdowns this season.
BIGGEST THREAT TO RAVENS:
From their eyes to the tips of their toes today, the Ravens secondary must resemble a swivel. From Corey Graham to Jimmy Smith to the Matt Elam, the Baltimore secondary must be alert, aggressive but in control and disciplined in their assignments. Aaron Rodgers has completed a league-best 60.9% of his passes 20 or more yards downfield this season (league average: 36.6%). Rodgers has completed 7-of-8 of those attempts to Jordy Nelson this season, which is the best on the team.
Heading into 2013 and since the 2011 season, Rodgers ranks first in the NFL in passer rating (114.9), regular-season wins (25), yards per attempt (8.48), touchdown to interception ratio (6:1), touchdown percentage (8.0) and interception percentage (1.3) but he’s also been sacked more than any other signal caller as well. Entering today, Rodgers has taken a seat an amazing 98 times during this span. Do not be fooled into thinking that simply blitzing Rodgers will be enough to get the job done.
Rodgers was once again one of the most effective passers in the league against the blitz last season. In 2012, Rodgers completed 82 of 127 passes (64.6 percent) for 1,056 yards and 14 TDs with three INTs against the blitz (when a defender not lined up on the line of scrimmage rushes the QB, or more than four players rush the QB) for a 117.4 passer rating.
In 82 career starts, Rodgers has posted a 100-plus passer rating against the blitz 40 times (29-11 record in those games). That includes 22 games with a 125-plus rating (149.3 vs. Washington in Week 2). In four games this season, Rodgers has an 80.7 rating against the blitz, connecting on 17 of 35 passes for 260 yards and two TDs with one INT. Once again, the Ravens defense will have to disguise and be creative vs. Rodgers.
According to Pro-Football Focus, the deep passing has been the Ravens secondary weakness. Although they have held opponents to a 45 percent completion rate on deep passes, opposing quarterbacks have had a 112.7 QB rating against the Ravens while throwing for four touchdowns. Each of their defensive backs has had breakdowns in coverage, but Corey Graham seems to be the biggest offender. Graham has given up four touchdowns on the year, two of which were targeted past 20 yards. He has another challenge in front of him, as he will be tasked with covering Randall Cobb in the slot.
Rodgers can be had, if the Ravens get their quickly and the DB’s hold their coverage’s.
RAVENS CAN CONTINUE TO ESTABLISH RUN:
We say it all the time, the best way to stop Aaron Rodgers is to not have him on the field. With 86.0 rushing yards per game The Packers possess the fifth best run defense in the NFL but they are hurting in a major way at linebacker. The key to the Ravens establishing the run today will be hitting the hole quickly. The Ravens offensive line must get the initial push at the snap of the ball. That will not be easy as GB is very big up front. Pro Bowler B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly combine to weigh in at 662 pounds and they play defensive end, so new Ravens OT Eugene Monroe will have a chance to make an impact in his first start. Three hundred and forty pound Ryan Pickett plays nose tackle, as the Packers employ a hybrid 3-4 defense with the occasional Pop-Warner 2-4-5.
The Packers D-line gets penetration and they free up leading tackler A.J. Hawk, who has 40 tackles. However, the Packers will be missing two key linebackers today. Middle linebacker Brad Jones and the team’s biggest spark plug, Clay Matthews, are ruled out of today’s contest. With Matthews out, Mike Neal is next man up at outside linebacker. Neal also plays at defensive end, and he has 18 tackles and two sacks already this year.
If the Ravens are going to win today, they must make a complete 360-degree turnaround on the offensive line. Returning to Pro-Football Focus, “The Ravens’ offensive line play has been dreadful throughout the year, earning their worst offensive line ranking for the first five weeks.”
“Marshal Yanda has been the lone bright spot along the line, but even he is not performing as well as in the past. Right tackle Michael Oher has been sufficient pass blocking, but ranks 68th out of 71 tackles in run blocking performance. On the other end of the line, Bryant McKinnie has been so abysmal that the Ravens traded for Jaguars’ starting left tackle Eugene Monroe midseason. McKinnie was allowing an average of four pressures per game and his 93.0 Pass Blocking Efficiency ranks 49th among tackles. His real weakness though is his performance in the run game, in which he ranks second-to-last. If Monroe is ready to play on Sunday, he would be a significant upgrade over McKinnie. With the Ravens not having to block Matthews, they will have a chance to progress against the Packers’ largely unproven linebacker group.”
Whatever seems to be ailing Ray Rice and it was there before he went down with a hip injury, he must figure it out now. His balance has been horrendous since the end of last season and he’s not hitting the holes with the quickness, toughness and pop he used too. Neither is Bernard Pierce. If the duo can get past the Packers initial push up front and most good to great backs can, then the Ravens can open up the playbook a bit today and get down the field. Joe Flacco will be able to execute play action, which will allow Torrey Smith and some of the returning healthy receivers to get separation. We could finally see the Ravens offense we all expected in 2013. Nevertheless, it all depends on being able to establish the run and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines.
Winning the time of possession battle today will only matter if the Packers are going three and out and not seven points and off the field in less than two minutes per drive.
STATS THAT MATTER FOR BOTH TEAMS:
In Sunday’s 22-9 victory vs. Detroit, the Packers got a spark from a pair of big plays from wide receivers, an 83-yard TD catch by James Jones and a 67-yard run by Randall Cobb. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Packers became the first NFL team to register an 80-yard pass and a 65-yard run in the same game since the Los Angeles Raiders did so vs. Cincinnati on Nov. 5, 1989 (RB Bo Jackson, 92-yard TD run; WR Willie Gault, 82-yard TD catch).
Eddie Lacy gained 99 yards on 23 carries in the Packers’ 22-9 victory over the Lions. Lacy fell one yard short of earning Green Bay a distinction that illustrates the depth of its corps of running backs. With that additional yard, the Packers would have become only the third team in the last 20 seasons on which three different players posted a 100-yard rushing game over a span of three games. James Starks (132 rushing yards) and Johnathan Franklin (103) reached the 100-yard mark in the Packers’ previous two games. Green Bay has actually done that twice: Paul Horning, Jim Taylor, and Tom Moore in 1961; and Noah Herron, Ahman Green, and Vernand Morency in 2006.
In each of the past four full seasons (2009-12), Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,600 yards and 20 TDs, while posting 12 INTs or less. Each player has also led his team to a World Championship and been named Super Bowl MVP (Flacco, SB XLVII in 2012, and Rodgers, SB XLV in 2010.)
WR Torrey Smith has excelled this season, producing 556 receiving yards (third most in the NFL) on 27 catches. With 6 receptions for 121 yards last week at Miami, Smith became the first Raven since Qadry Ismail in 1999 to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. (Ismail had three straight that year.)
Today’s game will feature two of the three teams in the NFL to earn a playoff berth each of the last four seasons (2009-12), with New England the only other club to accomplish the feat over that span. Green Bay is tied for No. 2 in the NFL with 49 regular-season wins since ’09 and Baltimore is tied for No. 4 in the league over that span with 46 victories.
Aaron Rodgers is 21-23 on the road during his career but it is not because he has not done his part. He has passed for 11,512 yards (more than at home) has completed 64 percent of passes and has tossed 86 touchdowns and only 27 INT’s. He owns an amazing 101.2 QB rating away from Lambeau Field.
The Ravens dominated the NFC under John Harbaugh. The team is 10-0 under Harbs vs. the NFC and have won 13 consecutive home games vs. the conference dating back to 2006. The Ravens’ all-time record vs. the NFC at home is 26-5-1. The tie cam vs. the Philadelphia Eagles at Memorial Stadium in 1997 and Baltimore is 38-27-1 overall vs. the NFC since arriving in the Charm City in 1996.
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For once, the Ravens play 60 minutes. Joe Flacco will not allow Aaron Rodgers to beat him in his house. The Ravens D comes up big all afternoon.
RAVENS 34 PACKERS 24
Join me at 11:00 am this morning for the Ravens Pre-Game show on The Fansepak Radio Network.