Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the Packers primetime opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. Aaron and Corey covered a lot of ground during last night’s interviews with Ravens experts Chris Pika and John Eisenberg, so make sure you watch the show first. As an NFC-oriented fan, the AFC has always seemed a little strange to me, so figuring out this matchup has been an adventure. Without further ado, let’s dive in to Week 13.
Coming into this game, the Ravens are…proud of themselves for finally finishing a game against a major rival. After losing all 3 contests with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2008 season (including the AFC Championship game), the Ravens finally got some of their own back. Actually, the Packers got a good look at two of their next three opponents last Sunday night, when the Ravens out-gritted the Steelers in OT, 20-17. Brandon at APC did a nice recap of the game, highlighting how BAL’s offense is built around RB Ray Rice and WR Derrick Mason and how PIT RB Rashard Mendenhall got all of his 95 rushing yards running up the gut of a once-vaunted BAL run defense. What’s more, major key-to-the-defense ROLB Terrell Suggs was out with a (Brady-Quinn-induced) injury, and it showed – Baltimore didn’t get to Dixon, though Flacco was dropped 5 times.
OC Cam Cameron also showed some imagination on offense, splitting TE Todd Heap out wide and using unbalanced lines to throw off the PIT defense.
The fans at home are…spending some quality time answering questions from Packer fans and cooking up Christmas lists for their team (the blogger in the second link admits that she “has a huge crush on (CB Lardarius) Webb”). They’ve also peered into their crystal balls, and realized that in order to make the postseason, they have to win either this match-up against the Packers…or the season-ender in Pittsburgh. Not hard to guess they like their chances for this week. (They're also good/bad/uglying, with an extra helping of Megan Fox.)
When looking at the Packers on film… they know that the Packers are more rested than they are. Not only did they get 3 extra days off, but there’s also no real comparison between the Lions and the Steelers in terms of physical and punishing play. Plus, they’ve figured out that Charles Woodson is a pretty formidable opponent.
The Packers aren’t the only ones counting on Monday’s matchup to prove that they’re a legitimate postseason contender – the Ravens see the game as a major proving ground. The team hasn’t traveled to Lambeau since 2001, and only Ray Lewis remains from that squad. Still, Derrick Mason, who played at Lambeau twice as a Titan, has definite respect for the host team and its fans:
After you’ve been through it the first time, and you walk into the stadium – the frozen tundra and all the history that’s behind it – once you get out there and you’re kind of amazed by the field and the crowd. After that it’s football. We’re not playing the stadium, so that’s a good thing. You go in there and relish what’s going on, but then you know you have to play a very good Green Bay Packers team.
What We’re Up Against: I decided to take a little bit of a different tack this week, given all the insight that Chris Pika and John Eisenberg offered in last night’s show. Instead, I’ll highlight a few things that I think are worth mentioning.
First, the Baltimore Ravens have a ton of playmakers on their team. Pro Football Focus is a very nifty site that breaks down every player in every game, and using their methodology, it appears like the Ravens are a much better team than the Packers. On offense, here are their best 10 players:
|Pos.||Name||Overall||Pass||Rush||Pass Block||Screen Block||Run Block||Penalty|
|OL C||Matt Birk||10.3||2.9||1.0||8.9||-2.5|
|OL LT||Jared Gaither||5.9||9.8||-0.5||3.1||-6.5|
|OL RT||Michael Oher||5.8||2.5||1.5||8.3||-6.5|
|OL LG||Ben Grubbs||1.4||6.8||4.0||-7.4||-2.0|
I’ve bolded a few things that jump out at me – Ray Rice may be better out of the backfield than as a straight runner. C Matt Birk and RT Michael Oher are fantastic at run-blocking, but LG Ben Grubbs is miserable at it. (Therefore, expect runs to angle toward Jolly, Hawk, and Jones.) Meanwhile, the left side of the OL is stout in pass protection. Finally, Jared Gaither and Oher are penalty-prone. Baltimore has a better OL. (Their starters total 19.8 pts overall. The Packers? 0.6 pts, despite powerhouse Josh Sitton.) (Not listed in the top 10, likely because he's been invisible much of the year, is Mark Clayton, who broke out last week.)
The Ravens have a lot of confidence in their running game, and who wouldn’t, after racking up 132 yards on a team that normally gives up half that (63)? Now, the contrarian could cite the 158 yards the Packers put up against 3rd-rated San Francisco and call it a fluke. Or, they could just note that the Packers hold RBs to 3.6 ypc and 89.1 ypg, a stat that’s robust after facing 2 of the top 3 RBs and 5 of the top 20 (Adrian Peterson (twice), Steven Jackson, Cedric Benson, Frank Gore, and Marion Barber). Bottom line? Flacco knows he has a weapon in Ray Rice (so do the Packers), and the playcalling proves it. Rice, 5’8” and 210 lbs, has made Willis McGahee (a #1 on most other teams) a second-stringer. Add in FB Le’Ron McClain, and we may see another three-headed monster.
|Pos.||Name||Overall||Pass Rush||Pass Cov.||Run Defense||Penalty||QB Sk||QB Ht||QB Pr||Tks|
|DB S||Edward Reed||11.5||-0.3||12.5||1.8||-2.5||0||0||1||38|
|DB CB||Domonique Foxworth||2.8||0.0||2.8||3.0||-3.0||0||0||0||30|
Since their bye week, the Ravens D has come on strong, allowing no more than 17 points (11.6 ppg) in the last 5 weeks. The Ravens are extremely effective at stopping the run (the best Packer is Nick Barnett at 11.0). Ed Reed should be avoided at all costs. (By comparison, Woodson’s overall? 18.3 w/10 in pass coverage.) What pass rush the Ravens get comes from Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, though the latter may not play.
In grading out the Ravens after Sunday’s game, the Sun’s Mike Preston highlighted a few key weaknesses the Packers could exploit:
- Joe Flacco reinjured his already-bum ankle, limiting his pocket mobility and the strength of his throws.
- Outside blitzers can wear down BAL’s formidable offensive line.
- RCB Domonique Foxworth is the weakest point of a moderately-suspect secondary.
Preston also noted that special teams committed “dumb penalties,” but since the Packers special teams are no better, I’d say this isn’t so much exploitable as a wash.
Speaking of special teams, Baltimore has returned one kickoff for a TD this year (vs. DEN in W8), and ranks 5th in kick returns (25.5 yds avg) and 27th in punt returns (5.9 yds avg). By contrast, the Packers rank 22nd (22.2 yds) and 23rd (7 yds) in those respective categories. Per Pro Football Focus, rookie CB Lardarius Webb is the biggest ST threat facing the Packers on Monday night. (Webb is also a new-minted starter at CB in relief of Fabian Washington, and has shown promise.) It should be noted, however, that Packers newcomer S Derrick Martin can’t wait to show the Ravens what they’re missing.
Since it’s a Monday night game, previews may go up a day later than normal, but that hasn’t stopped the Journal-Sentinel. Bob McGinn, playing off the color of the Ravens uniforms, says there will be “no shrinking violets” at Lambeau on Monday night. Like the Packers, the Ravens put together a game packet, and this one is chock-full of good reading. The head-to-head is up at NFP as well. (Updated: Pete Dougherty has a nice two-fer - an article on Joe Flacco's second year and the standard scouting report. Also, the ESPN scouting & intel reports are good reads.) Both blogs at SB Nation have their previews up: Brandon at APC notes that the forecast snow would throw off all predictions, while Baltimore Beatdown concludes that the Ravens need to "pressure the QB, pressure the QB, and pressure the QB" to win.
- The official Baltimore Ravens webpage takes time out each week to ask players about pop culture. This week? It’s all about Lady Gaga and Twilight. I wish I was joking.
- Like Mike McCarthy, HC John Harbaugh has his own TV show.
There are a lot of ways the Packers can lose this game. The easy answer to “what do the Packers need to do to win” is to say that they need to be more physical than the Ravens. A tall order, to be sure, since the Ravens hit harder than anyone else on the Packers schedule outside of the Steelers in W15 (certainly harder than the 49ers and Lions).
As far as I’m concerned, this is a “show-me” game for the Packers. They had to beat Dallas to save their season, and they did. Now they have to beat the Ravens to show that they can beat a team that plays smash-mouth football. Should they make it to the postseason, the Packers will have to win in the trenches, and this game should give us a very clear idea of whether our team is up to the task or stuck with that dreaded “finesse” label.
EXTRA EXTRA: The NFL experts all think the Packers look great and will come out with the win, but I decided to do a little more digging after the Fox analysts held back their enthusiasm for the Pack and put the Ravens at #7. Enjoy.
EXTRA EXTRA...EXTRA?: Before I knew that Aaron and Corey were going to strike gold with their interviews on this week's show, I asked a friend who knows the AFC North well for insight on the game. Aviel answers my Ravens questions here.
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