The Green Bay Packers (2-2) travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens (3-2) in a Week 6 clash Sunday. I spoke with Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun earlier this week to help preview the matchup between two of the last three Super Bowl winners.
You can view my answers to Matt's questions here.
1. Joe Flacco has been mostly average to start this season, and his passer rating of 70.1 is currently 28th in the NFL. Can you point to one factor for why Flacco has struggled early on?
MV: I can point to a few, actually. Flacco deserves some of the blame for the struggles, particularly during his five-interception game against the Bills, but it's hard to fault him considering what he is working with. Torrey Smith has been the only consistent playmaker on offense, the offensive line has allowed a lot of pressure and there has been no running game to keep opponents on their heels. Jacoby Jones could return Sunday, which would help. Eugene Monroe should make his Ravens debut Sunday, solidifying the left tackle spot. And the running game showed signs of life in the win over the Dolphins. Once the players around him get going, Flacco should, too, but so far this season we have seen that he can't do it all by himself.
2. The Ravens were obviously overmatched in a season-opening to loss to the Denver Broncos, who attacked relentlessly with a top quarterback and a hoard of talented receiving options. The Packers bring a similar offensive mix to the table. Are the Ravens better prepared now to compete with this type of offense?
MV: That's a good observation and a good question. I don't really have an answer for you. We'll all find out Sunday. But you're right, the Ravens struggled against the Broncos, who run an up-tempo shotgun spread offense with Peyton Manning, one of the NFL's best. Their secondary has been inconsistent all season, so I could see Randall Cobb and company having a big game. The key will be the pass rush. That aspect of the team is really coming on and the Ravens have been able to consistently get pressure with their four-man rushes. If Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can disrupt Aaron Rodgers, too, they'll have a good chance.
3. Last Sunday, Baltimore improved its record to 25-3 when Ray Rice receives 25 or more touches. What makes Rice so important to the Ravens' winning formula? And do you expect him to be featured again against the Packers, who mostly took away Reggie Bush in Week 5?
MV: It is true that the Ravens usually win when Rice gets the ball a lot, but those stats are misleading because in some cases, the Ravens are running because they are winning, not the other way around. But make no mistake, the Ravens are better off when Rice, even if he appears to be less explosive so far this season, is involved in the game plan, which wasn't the case in the loss to the Bills. Even if the Ravens aren't running the ball well, he is still a threat in the short passing game. I expect the Ravens to come out throwing on Sunday, but they will keep the Packers honest with Rice and the running game, at least in the first half.
4. The Ravens are now five games into their title defense. But not many defending champs have this many new faces. What's your opinion of this team?
MV: The defense is still jelling, particularly the secondary, but this defense is already pretty good right now. The pass rush is the team's biggest strength, and Elvis Dumervil, one of those new faces, has had a hand in that. The offense is still trying to find its identity and some consistency. I think philosophically, the Ravens want to be a team that goes three-wide and spreads teams out, but after losing Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones, their personnel might be better-suited to run the ball. I still believe the Ravens will be a playoff team -- a win Sunday will really help in that cause -- but they still have much to prove in the next 12 weeks.
5. Complete this sentence. The Packers win in Baltimore Sunday if ... ?
MV: If they can get it done up front and keep Suggs and Dumervil off Rodgers' back, the Packers will be able to put up some points against the Ravens defense, though they are once again very tough in the red zone. If the Packers are able to score some touchdowns, I'm not sure the Ravens will be able to keep up. Losing Matthews will hurt, but the offensive line has been porous, screwing up the timing of the entire offense.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.