Knowing as little about the AFC as I do, I checked in earlier this week with a friend of mine, Aviel, who is as hardcore a fan of the Steelers as I am of the Packers. More so, in fact, since she went to the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Women's Training Camp (dear Packers, please have one of these). I expect that I'll pick her brain when the Steelers-Packers game approaches, but this week, she offered an AFC North insider's look at the Baltimore Ravens.
From the outside, the 2009 Ravens seem to be more about passing offense than they have been in the past. What style of football will the Ravens want to play on Monday night?
I think the Ravens at their heart are a running team - the 3 RBs they have work incredibly well together and wear down defenses. But Flacco has a cannon for an arm so he presents another threat to opposing defenses. But he's still young and his game hasn't matured, so I don't think they are quite the throwing offense that maybe he would like them to be.
On offense, we know that the Ravens have several ways to beat you, starting with RB Ray Rice, WR Derrick Mason, and TE Todd Heap. Who must the Packers shut down in order to put the Ravens off-balance on offense?
The Packers need to shut down Rice early. McGahee doesn't have the power or speed he used to and McClain is a great blocker but Rice is the superstar back of that team. Now when you consider Flacco's arm, if you double cover Mason they've got Washington who has come up with some big catches AND they often hit Rice with a quick screen. Flacco is good, but he's not Peyton Manning and I don't know that they can win with him throwing 30 times, so making Rice a non-factor is going to be critical. What's interesting is with Rice's success, they've abandoned the RB by committee with McGahee and McClain.
On Sunday night, the Steelers seemed to have success running up the gut with Rashard Mendenhall, even with Ray Lewis at LILB. Is the 2009 Ravens defense all hype and reputation?
YES! Their offense has improved leaps and bounds, but their defense is aging (much like the Steelers) and Ray Lewis isn't the linebacker he once was - he's still the heart and soul of that defense, but Mendenhall was throwing blocks on him and stopping him from getting to Dixon. I think their D is overrated and at 6-5 their record shows it. The Ravens beat us because they dropped into a soft zone with an inexperienced NFL QB - Dixon can't read those defenses and therefore made some critical errors in judgment.
The Packers run a West Coast offense, geared toward screens, slants, hitches, and then, every so often, a long bomb. Can this type of passing attack work against the Ravens?
I think that type of attack can - as I mentioned, the Baltimore defense is aging. I think more of a passing offense will throw them off - if you look at their losses, most of them are close and came off of mistakes (missed kicks, last minute rallies that didn't come through). But they're not necessarily winning off of Flacco's arm and they're losing to the likes of Brady, Palmer, Favre and Peyton Manning. So, that gives the Packers a good chance with their passing attack. I would watch out for Ed Reed clearly - he's still the second best in the league (behind Troy of course) and probably has more pick 6's than a lot of others in the league (and Baltimore's defense is like a machine when they get an INT).
Rodgers has been sacked more than anyone in the league – by far. What can we expect from Baltimore’s pass rush, and how can our beleaguered offensive line keep Rodgers from running for his life?
Maybe it's my bias, but I don't see Baltimore's pass rush as being that scary. If the Packers O-line is as beleaguered, then they may have problems - I think getting the ball off quickly with the slants, hot routes and screens will be their best response to anything their D can bring.
Dom Capers created the zone blitz with Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. He brought that aggressive scheme to Green Bay, and we’ve begun to see the pieces come together. Facing Joe Flacco, how can the Packers force him into making poor decisions?
Confuse him - it's still only his second year in the league and he's not able to read complicated defenses. Cover the WRs and Heap tight - Gay and Taylor were playing too far off, leaving guys way wide open with room for catch and run.
Big thanks to Aviel for indulging my curiosity. We know that the Steelers and Packers Nations will be united on Monday night to cheer the Packers on to victory. She doesn't have a football blog (yet), but if you have questions for Aviel, you can find her on Twitter.
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