Much is being made this week of the Packers #1 ranking on the defensive side of the ball. The players and coaches are doing a pretty good job of deflecting the storyline, as they seem well aware that the only thing that matters is how you finish at the end of the year, not at the end of Week 12.
And what better way to test their newfound status as King of the NFL's defensive heap than for a heaping helping of good ol' fashioned smashmouth power football? Because that's what I expect to see out of the Ravens this Monday.
The Steelers and their league’s top-rated rushing defense were softened by constant pounding by the Ravens, who were able to run 12 times for 57 yards in the first half, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. This allowed Baltimore to come away with 132 total rushing yards — led by Ray Rice’s 88 yards, Willis McGahee’s five carries for 18 yards and a TD, and fullback Le’Ron McClain’s four attempts for 28 yards.
The Ravens achieved this success against the vaunted Steeler defense by ratcheting up their physicality at the point of attack, by going Jumbo and bringing back the unbalanced offensive line that gave them so much success last year.
The Ravens out muscled Pittsburgh by going to a jumbo package at times in the first half, inserting the mauling Marshal Yanda at right guard with the first team and bringing 315 pound guard Chris Chester, who had previously been starting there, in as an extra blocker.
...The other part of their new Jumbo Package includes adding more push up front by bringing in 345 pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as a fullback/tight end. In fact, Ngata was in the game for two plays, including McGahee’s touchdown run. McGahee got his 6th TD of the year by following Ngata’s block up the middle, as the massive defender took out two Steelers.
The Ravens used an unbalanced line to great effect last season and it would seem they're getting back into that groove as quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled a bit over the course of the last month. When was the last time the Packers saw a healthy dose of unbalanced line? You guessed it - Week Two against the Bengals when Cedric Benson and company ran all over the Packer defense.
A lot has changed since then, from Bigby, Raji and Barnett getting healthy to the whole unit getting more familiar with the defense. What we haven't seen since Week Two, however, is a team really line up and pound the ball down after down. The Vikings and Cowboys both had some success early but both got away from the run (for different reasons) and the 49ers, the team I really expected to pound the Packers with the running game, fell so far behind so fast that the Niners had little choice but to start throwing the ball and take to the air.
Unless the Packers can put up similar points early against the Ravens (a feat I don't think is impossible) look for Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji, Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly to earn their paychecks this week.
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