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Packers vs. Ravens: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 6

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Packers vs. Ravens: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 6

Defending Super Bowl champions come in all shapes and sizes.

For the 2011 Green Bay Packers, a mostly intact roster hopped on the back of Aaron Rodgers and rode the MVP quarterback to a franchise record 15 wins. Any symptoms of a title hangover stayed dormant until the postseason.

The 2013 Baltimore Ravens haven't followed the same script.

Ray Lewis started his Hall of Fame clock by retiring, and Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe all moved on to different locales. The remaining members of Super Bowl XLVII champions have limped out to an unassuming 3-2 record to start this season.

The two clubs meet in Baltimore Sunday for a pivotal Week 6 clash between conference heavyweights.

Here's five questions the Packers need to answer against the defending champions:

1. Is the Packers Defense Ready for Life Without Clay Matthews? 

Sunday will be the first in what could be a line of four or five games without Matthews. The Packers have dealt with missing Matthews at times in the past, to varying results. He's simply too difficult to replace, both as a top pass rusher and relentless force against the run. Green Bay will now lean on Nick Perry, a former first-round pick, and Mike Neal, a converted defensive lineman, to fill the void at outside linebacker. The two combined for three sacks against the Detroit Lions, but the spotlight is now solely on them to produce on the edges. Saying the Ravens have been vulnerable against good pass rushes would be understatement, as Joe Flacco has been sacked 14 times and hit 19 others so far this season. Matthews could have really done some damage against this offensive line, but he'll be watching Sunday from the sidelines. On the bright side, Perry and Neal are each talented enough to cause their own brand of havoc.

2. Can the Packers Run Defense Keep Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce Down?

The Ravens have been spotty on offense for a number of reasons, but failures in the running game must reside somewhere on the blame list. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, who many considered one of the game's top 1-2 punches at running back ahead of this season, are both averaging less than three yards a carry. Rice's longest rush has been 14 yards, and Pierce isn't breaking as many tackles. The result has been a rushing offense that is ranked 27th in yards (77.8) and 31st in yards per attempt (2.8) this season. Meanwhile, the Packers have improved significantly against the run in 2013, ranking fifth in rushing yards allowed a game (86.0) after giving up 106.4 in 2012. This will be a telling matchup, as the Ravens are 25-3 when Rice receives 25 or more touches. If the Packers can suffocate the run early, the Baltimore offense has been known to abandon the run completely (see Sept. 29, when the Ravens ran 30 consecutive pass plays in the second half of a loss to Buffalo).

3. Is the Green Bay Offensive Line Ready for Another Test?

So much for a cupcake start for a patched up offensive line. By the time Sunday is over, the Packers will have faced the defensive fronts of the 49ers, Redskins, Bengals, Lions and Ravens in 2013. So far, Green Bay's five-man front of David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Don Barclay have exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations, especially given the quality of the teams listed above. Rodgers has only been sacked 11 times, and the rushing offense is fifth in the NFL in yards per game (141.0) and second in yards per carry (5.3). The Ravens will present another stern test, with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil coming off the edges and Haloti Ngata controlling the middle of Baltimore's hybrid 3-4 front. In Week 5, the Ravens sacked Ryan Tannehill six times and held the Dolphins to 22 yards rushing. Sunday will match a gelling offensive line against a pass rush that is heating up. One trend will likely come to an end.

4. Will Sam Shields Take Away Ravens WR Torrey Smith?

What a fascinating matchup this could turn out to be. Both true speedsters, Shields and Smith have both begun to sharpen the finer points of their respective crafts. Shields now has a strong case for being the Packers best pure cover player, while Smith's 556 receiving yards are good for second in the NFL this season. The speed of this clash will be obvious, as Smith is averaging 20.6 yards per catch (13 receptions over 20 yards), and Shields might be the fastest player on the Packers roster. His long arms also help cover a wide radius on deep balls. Expect the Packers to roll safety help to Shields on Sunday, given the Ravens currently have so few other receivers that present matchup problems in the passing game. This individual matchup will be worth keeping an eye on.

5. Is the Offense Capable of Replicating Denver's Week 1 Effort? 

The Ravens defense that will line up Sunday against the Packers appears to have distanced itself from the unit that got torched in the season opener in Denver. Still, it's tempting to look at Green Bay's offensive weapons and not go back to the devastation Peyton Manning and Co. inflicted on Baltimore in Week 1. The Broncos scored 49 points with relative ease, as Manning tossed seven touchdowns to an unrelenting group of talented receivers. For the most part, the Packers' quartet of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley is comparable to Denver's foursome of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas. If the Green Bay offensive line can protect Rodgers on Sunday, this offense will score points. Maybe not at a rate comparable to Denver, but there's matchups to like in the passing game. Expect the Packers offense to come out in attack mode.

Prediction: Green Bay 30, Baltimore 20 (Season record: 3-1) 

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (48) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree with all 5 questions.

For me this would be a good test for the Packers Running game. So I would question how good can the Packers run the ball on the Ravens defense.

PackerPete's picture

I'm a little confused about one point. So Flacco has been sacked 14 times in 5 games and that is considered as the Ravens having problems against a good pass rush. That's 2.8 sacks per game given up. Rodgers has been sacked 11 times in 4 games, which is 2.75 sacks per game, then the statement is the OL has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Really? What I am seeing is 2 average OL groups who have trouble with talented pass rushers, but are also capable of playing well against not so talented teams.
This is a huge game for the Packers. Unfortunately I don't think they match up well against the Ravens, but Haloti Ngata is limited and their secondary is suspect. I expect a close game with the Ravens getting the better end.

Zach Kruse's picture

Maybe sacks wasn't the best gauge for how these two offensive lines are protecting the passer.

I know some of you don't love Pro Football Focus, but they have raw pressure totals. This will paint a more clear picture of the obvious gap between the two lines this season:

BAL, 217 passing plays, 84 pressures allowed (38.7 percent).
GB, 169 passing plays, 37 pressures allowed (21.9 percent).

PackerPete's picture

yes, that makes a little more sense. Thank you for clarifying.

Evan's picture

True...but I'd also look at quality of opponents. The Packers have faced 3 of the best defensive fronts in its first 4 games in SF, Cincinnati and Detroit (and Washington is no slouch).

The Ravens have played the Broncos minus their two best pass rushers, Browns, Texans, Bills and Dolphins. Not exactly a murderer's row.

PackerPete's picture

Well, I'd take JJ Watt and Cameron Wake over everybody we have in a heart beat. Every NFL team has good players. Cincy has a top 3 NFL D, whether SF and Lions are in that category will be seen. Lions I really doubt. They are not bad but not elite either.

Idiot Fan's picture

Detroit's D as a whole may not be among the league's best, but their D line is incredible. Suh and Fairley are really really good. Suh has been so disruptive this year.

But I agree that the Miami, Houston, and even Cleveland lines are no slouch either.

PackerPete's picture

Oh yes, I agree with you there. Their DLine is very very good. But that is all they have.
It's also not always the D's fault even if they give up quite a few points. Just look at Houston and into what terrible situations Schaub puts his D. Or the disaster that was Jeremy Ross for the Packers.

Evan's picture

Taking JJ Watt or Wake over everybody we have is really besides the point.

I'm talking the quality of the opposing defensive front 7s both the Packers and the Ravens have faces so far.

PackerPete's picture

and I guess we'll just have to agree that we'll disagree about this point. I think the Ravens have faced quality Ds as well. It's really no problem, just my humble opinion. We'll see at the end of the season where every team ends up.

Idiot Fan's picture

Those can both be true statements. The claim about the Packer line was that they were exceeding expectations, not that the line was really awesome. Given rookie/almost-rookie tackles, things could have been a complete disaster, especially considering the defensive fronts that we have played so far. I think our guard play has been awesome as of late. Suh (who has been a complete wrecking ball this year) and Atkins (who is among the game's best) did virtually nothing against us, which is pretty incredible.

I'm a little more nervous about the Ravens, since their skill players on DL are at the ends, where I think we are more vulnerable.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I absolutely love these tough defensive fronts our young O-line is having to face early in the season, it's only going to benefit us down the stretch. I hope to see some quick passes and 20+ runs called Sunday to help them out.

Ray Rice hasn't been Ray Rice, no Pita, Smith is the only real weapon they have that's been on top of his game this season... And Ngata being banged up doesn't hurt...

GBP - 27
baltimore - 20

Stroh's picture

Agreed. The stiffer the competition they face now, early in the season, the better the OL will be at the end of the year. As long as Rodgers remains on the field that is... I would say the interior of the OL is playing excellent football so far. Bahktiari and Barclay are doing good enough, hopefully they'll learn from this stretch against stout Defenses and be much better for it by the end of the year.

Evan's picture

Ummm...why am I not more concerned about the absence of Clay Matthews? My head tells me I should be but my gut says we'll be fine.

Idiot Fan's picture

Man I hope your gut is right. When he left the Bengals game, their offense went from doing nothing to scoring repeatedly. I don't know how much of that is related to him being out, but there was a clear line of demarcation.

PackerPete's picture

Nick Perry was terrible against Cincy, he even said that himself. Truth is both Perry and Neal need to have good games, and nothing can happen to either one. If we'd have to go to either Mulumba or Palmer we will be doomed. The fact that the Lions couldn't do anything after Clay was out had more to do with them being terrible without Megatron than the D.

Idiot Fan's picture

That's kind of what I'm afraid of. Hopefully Shields can handle Smith, and since Pitta is out (he would have been a problem for us), then the remaining strength of the Ravens is their run game, which Neal and Perry should be ok against. Once we start playing some better passing teams, we are really going to need Clay back.

Stroh's picture

Don't go to sleep on the other TE. Dickson isn't quite up to Pitta as a receiver or his trust w/ Flacco, but he's very athletic and could give the Packers fits. Pitta had a better report w/ Flacco but Dickson is more talented athletically.

RC Packer Fan's picture

One big reason why your gut is telling you not to worry is because Perry and Neal are coming off their best games as OLB's.
Last year Clay missed 4 games and they were 3-1 in that stretch. That was with Eric Walden and Desman Moses.
I would start Andy Mulumba over either of those guys and right now he is our 3rd OLB.

I agree with your head that we are a lot better with Clay then without. But I think we will be just fine.

PackerPete's picture

yes, we are in a better position now than we were in the past for sure. At the same time, there is no specific player on our D now who has to be game planned for. Clay was always first on the opposing DC's mind. Now, does anybody come to mind? Which might actually be a good thing, they might just underestimate a couple of guys. But I really hope both Neal and Perry can stay healthy for the stretch without Clay.

zub's picture

This will be Johnny Jolly's break out game, he will stop the run and cause at least one turnover

Steven's picture

Perry 2 sacks. When Matthews rejoins him later the two finally start to gell as a duo . I am starting to wonder if everyone questioning our o line are mini cows or (calfs) if you will. Guys we have a 4 th rounder at Lt!!!! And an undrafted free agent on Rt and C. Not to mention mid rounders at guard. Ted is a genuise in the draft. Bak would be a first rounder if we re did the draft. Lacy was a great second. And franklin.... how many 4th rounders do you know that play even close to his level agaisnt the skins. Cant wait to see if tretter matches his 4th round mates

Steven's picture

Please excuse the spelling. Im on a phone. Lol

PackerPete's picture

I actually can't wait for Sherrod to come back. That guy was great in the SEC and dominated his opponents. I think if a better C can be found next year, this OL will be very good. Maybe Tretter will be the C, but I wouldn't bet on that. Just imagine Sherrod playing well, and then Sherrod - Sitton - good C - Lang - DonnieB. This is a good OL. I don't think Bakhtiari would play if everybody is healthy.

Evan's picture

Yeah, a healthy and competent Sherrod would really mix up things on the OL.

This is getting way ahead of ourselves, obviously, but Bulaga has, what, 1 or 2 years left on his deal? Maybe trade bait if Bak and Sherrod are able to take over?

A lot can and will happen between now and then. I'm just excited for Sherrod to get out there.

PackerPete's picture

yeah, that is getting ahead of ourselves, but for me personally Bulaga was never somebody I counted on. Even when he was healthy he didn't play that well. I think it will be really interesting next year for camp, especially if you'd count Tretter and whoever will be drafted into the mix. I know, that is far into the future, and we still have at least 12 games to play this season, but I am very excited about the future.

RC Packer Fan's picture

yeah, I agree getting a little ahead, but there is nothing wrong with that either...

I will say though that I have been really impressed with Bakhtiari and Barclay at OT's.. Barclay I think might be better at guard then OT, but he just seems to continually get better.
Looking ahead, I really like the looks of our O-line's future.

Idiot Fan's picture

Out of curiosity, when Sherrod gets cleared, who comes off the 53? If we cut another Olineman, we have a lot of backup tackles and few backup guards. And no I do not want to cut Newhouse.

Evan's picture

Yeah, that's a huge question too. No idea. I don't want to cut Newhouse either...but losing an interior guy makes no sense. Maybe that new RB Hill? That still leaves them with only 4 WR though.

Idiot Fan's picture

Can you imagine the competition at tackle next year, even based on the guys we know we have - Bulaga, Sherrod, Bakh, Barclay, and Newhouse? Egads.

PackerPete's picture

Barclay can play G. So it may be Lane Taylor. The more interesting question to me is what they'll do with Tretter, should he show any signs of being decent. I think they still put him on IR.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree that is a good question. But once the PUP players start practicing they have 3 weeks to decide what they are going to do. so they will probably wait and see if anyone gets injured first. If no one gets injured I would guess that Hill will be the first dropped down.

Idiot Fan's picture

I think they put Tretter and Worthy on IR, even if they're healthy, just to avoid having to make a hasty decision. Sherrod I don't think they can IR simply because that could mentally kill him. Dude needs to start playing.

Stroh's picture

If being injured the past 2 years and unable to play hasn't killed Sherrod mentally then going on IR for the rest of this season won't kill him anymore. I don't see him going on IR tho. The Packers want, and really need, Sherrod to start playing and getting some reps. It'll help a lot in the OTA's and offseason to get him into football activities the rest of this season.

Overall, I like how the OL is shaping up for next year. The way I see it is Sherrod and Bulaga at OT, Lang Sitton and EDS inside. Bahktiari the primary backup at OT, w/ Barclay and Tretter the backups inside. Then maybe they can get a spot for one more OL on the team.

markinmadison's picture

Wow, a lot of love for Sherrod. Don't get me wrong, I have been there all along, but projecting him as a starter seems like a real leap at this point.

On the flip side, I am surprised at the lack of regard for Bulaga. He has had a few stretches with subpar games, but if he was not clearly the best T on the roster MM would not have flipped the whole OL this off season. Unless Bak proves he is the LT this year I would look for Bulaga at LT next year.

Stroh's picture

Personally I see Sherrod as the best LT propect. Granted he has had a lot to overcome and we don't know what type of player he'll still be after that injury. But if he can recapture the talent and ability he had when he was drafted, he has the most ability and measurables as a pass blocking LT. Remains to be seen how good he was/is tho.

hayward4president's picture

Is it weird that I'm kinda excited to see Neal n Perry rushing the outsiders? Now ..I didn't say confident I said excited. Get a couple more 53!

BubbaOne's picture

Q's I have re ST:
Can we get some return yards in punt and esp kickoff?
How will the cover team be missing Francois, maybe Lattimore since he's starting, and Mulumba/Bush walking wounded?

Stroh's picture

Yeah the ST is going to take a big hit w/ the LB missing. Francois and Lattimore were 2 of the core ST guys, along w/ Mulumba I imagine. One of those spots will be filled by Palmer but that still leaves them a little short handed. Sure other players can and will play, but those LB are the backbone of the ST along w/ Bush and Taylor.

DraftHobbyist's picture

About the pass rush, Clay Matthews had 1 sack against Detroit. The Packers had 5. Detroit has given up only 8 sacks all season including the 5 from the Packers. I know there is more to it then that, but I think that shows that the Packers pass rush has much more to it than Clay Matthews.

Last year the Packers were 4th in total sacks with 47 even though Matthews missed 4 games.

hayward4president's picture

True, but Clay draws all the attention allowing others to come free. Perry will take Clays roll now with the stunts and what not. It will be exciting to see how he does. It will take him a lil while to get used to one would think. Having said that if he does come out blowing people up Sunday it will be that much more impressive.

Stroh's picture

Was going to say the same thing about Matthews drawing the attention of the other teams. His being out there makes the other guys jobs quite a bit easier. One caveat is Perry playing ROLB seemed more natural. So switching sides might and probably will make his pass rush better. But your point is still well taken. Hopefully Perry will be able to step up in Matthews role and Neal should be fine on the LOLB spot where his power will be helpful.

Steven's picture

I believe we will resign finley but have you guys seen seferian-jenkins te out of nebraska . Doubt he will be there when the packers pick. But man would i love that. Ya ya i know its too soon to be worrying about the draft. But i dont see any glaring needs for this team.

Evan's picture

I saw a mock draft the other day that had the Packers picking him. I'd rather re-sign Finley and draft a stud safety.

IT'S WEEK 6!!! WHAT AM I DOING?! haha.

PackerPete's picture

maybe you've listened to cow and have given up on the season already LOL

markinmadison's picture

I was going to say, safety is a glaring need. The other thing is the number of DL whose contracts are up, and JJ is up as well. Look for TT to spend a high rounder at WR for sure. I think the C talk will prove out wrong. 12 likes EDS, and he will not be too expensive.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

ASJ... Did you mean out of Washington?

themasterfake's picture

I am thinking Mr. Mike Daniels is going to have three sacks

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