This Sunday the 4-5 Ravens meet the 5-4 Chicago Bears in a game that is critical for both teams. It is the first meeting between these storied franchises since a December 20, 2009 Ravens 31-7 victory.
The Ravens are fresh off a solid defensive effort, having survived a final Hail Mary pass and conversion to tie the game – only to win in overtime on a 46-yard Tucker field goal. The Bears last Sunday mustered a final drive against the Lions to cut their deficit to 21-19, though that would be the final score as a Matt Forte two-point conversion failed.
The AP Pro32 NFL Rankings have the Bears at #11 and the Ravens at #17, though I’ve seen many pundits picking Baltimore by a narrow margin this week, despite their 1-4 road record. So what are the Ravens’ keys to success on Sunday for a victory in Chicago?
Taking Advantage of the Absence of Jay Cutler
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is out for this week with a high ankle sprain. The 11-year veteran Josh McCown will take his place and has performed well in this role this season. In three games he has completed 60% of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bears have successfully rolled the pocket to utilize his mobility, and this will be a unique challenge for the Ravens defense. So this game matchup features the #7 Bears offense against the #8 Ravens defense.
Neutralize the Top-Notch Skill Position Players of the Bears
The Bears have some formidable offensive tools.
Brandon Marshall is among the elite receivers in the NFL. He currently has 60 catches on the season for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. And this is not just on the receiving end from Jay Cutler … as against the Packers, Marshall tallied 107 yards and a touchdown on seven balls from McCown. An especially interesting matchup will be the play-by-play close fellowship of Marshall and cornerback Lardarius Webb. The latter clearly had his best game of the season last week against the Bengals with an interception and six tipped passes.
Bears running back Matt Forte has the seventh-highest number of NFL yards rushing with 691, and is fourth in the league with a total of 1,023 yards from scrimmage. This double threat will be a significant challenge for the Ravens’ linebackers.
And it does not get any easier on special teams. Though the Ravens are 12th in the league on kick and punt returns, the Bears rank fifth. Devin Hester is the NFL record holder for return touchdowns with 19 in his career, including an 81-yard punt return this season against the Redskins.
Keeping Flacco on His Feet and Passes in Ravens’ Hands
An unusual number of Flacco passes have ended up in the wrong hands already this season … 11 to be exact. In his five previous campaigns, Joe had a season-ending picks total of 12-12-10-12-10. He has 12 touchdowns so far, but is ranked #25 among QBs. Of course, it is difficult to complete passes with your face in the turf and 600 pounds of defensive linemen on top of you. Flacco has been sacked a total of 30 times already through nine games. The total for all of last season was 35, and the most in his career has been 40.
The defensive line that features three different players from 2012 has simply been unable to pick up the blitz with consistency. Traps, screens, draws, prayers to Edgar Allen Poe … nothing has worked successfully. And there is nothing scary at all about the Ravens rushing game. I feel badly for Flacco at a statistical level of about .7 – that being the last part of the 120.7 million contract (But honestly, that’s a lot of sympathy – how many of you are making 700k this year?).
Beat the Weatherman
Yes, I wrote that. Hey, it was featured on the Weather Channel this morning. The guy was saying that fantasy football people should play the Ravens defense because of these statistics: High temperature of 63 (that’s good for Chicago!), 80% chance of strong storms and rain with 28 mph winds out of the SSW. Yep – this is a good game for TV!
Just Run the Ball beyond the Line of Scrimmage!
There is no way around saying it straight out – the Ravens’ rushing statistics are simply dreadful. They are #30 in the league in rushing with only 658 yards, while being dead last in average gains per attempt at 2.8! Ray Rice has a total of 289 yards with a 2.5 average.
But here is the good news – they are going against the #25 defense in the league! Not unlike the Ravens, the Bears are going through a transitional personnel period from their well-known defensive past; and they are missing two key players this week with Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman being out.
Nothing scientific or sabermetric here – just a simple observation – but when switching channels from the Ravens game to any other, the speed and aggressiveness of the offensive push is an immediately obvious contrast to that just previously witnessed. It is remarkably obvious; and it is almost like going from watching the speed of a game played in the mud and rain, to a game on artificial turf. Well, maybe real live mud and rain will help the Ravens running game this week (and maybe the ObamaCare web page will be fixed this week also).
In an excellent summary paragraph from Bleacher Report …
“The most important thing to keep an eye on in Week 11 is whether the offense shows any signs of life. Baltimore’s defense has shown the capability to be an elite unit that can carry the team, but they won’t be able to keep winning games unless the offense can get its act together.”