For the second straight week, the Packers find themselves in must-win territory, facing a team rested and ready coming off a bye. At 4-5, the Baltimore Ravens have been an enigma this season, but they are usually ready after extra rest, 7-2 under John Harbaugh.
This is a team that opened the season with a 20-0 shutout at Cincinnati. Since then, they’ve gotten smoked 44-7 to the Jaguars, shut out the Dolphins and lost at home to the Bears. They’ve been even more inept on offense than Chicago, but have a tough, physical, bend but don’t break defense and a top tier special teams unit.
The Packers return home from their much needed win over the Bears as two point underdogs to Baltimore, hoping to ride that momentum to a second straight win. With a prime time game in Pittsburgh on the horizon, the Pack can’t afford to lose a third straight home game if they want to stay in the NFC race long enough for Aaron Rodgers to heal. Realistically, the Pack needs to win three of the next four and this one looks like the second toughest game during that stretch.
Complicating matters is the Packers’ health at running back. They’re without the top two guys on the depth chart in this matchup: Aaron Jones will miss at least a month with a sprained MCL and Ty Montgomery will sit this one out after re-aggravating his rib injury. So Jamal Williams will need to follow up on his impressive showing last week, complemented by fellow rookie Devante Mays, because make no mistake: the way to beat these Ravens is with the ground game.
Baltimore’s run defense ranks 28th in the league, having surrendered 231 to the Bears and more than 160 to the Steelers, Vikes and Jags. With temperatures likely hovering around 30 on Sunday, it will be a good day to run the football. Baltimore will load the box to stop the run, so Brett Hundley will need to loosen them up early and complete some passes to keep that unit honest.
He will have to deal with ageless pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who will probably match up against Justin McCray. At 35, Suggs still has juice, with 5.5 sacks this season. His fellow pass rushers will get help with multiple blitzes, as the aggressive Ravens D will look to force Hundley into mistakes. The Ravens’ strength is on the back end with three solid corners: Jimmy Smith (who’s dealing with an Achilles injury, but will likely play), Brandon Carr and rookie Marlon Humphrey. Former Charger FS Eric Weddle remains the quarterback of the unit.
The Ravens’ defense is #2 against the pass this season and have a league leading 13 interceptions. Hundley has been good at protecting the football the last two games, but faces a much stiffer test on Sunday. We’ll need to see last week’s fourth quarter version of Hundley on Sunday if the Pack is to spring the mild upset.
Meanwhile, the Pack’s defense will meet up with a pedestrian offense that might get a huge shot in the arm with the potential return of running back Danny Woodhead. He’s played exactly one series in the last 23 games; he missed last season, then caught three balls on the Ravens’ first series in the opener this season and then left with a hamstring injury. He’s still on IR as I write this, but is eligible to play Sunday if he comes off before 3pm Saturday. When healthy, Woodhead is one of the most dangerous pass catchers out of the backfield–something the Packers have had trouble dealing with for years.
Otherwise, the offense has not been able to get going most of the year. This week, Flacco went public about the team’s conservative play calling, saying ‘We need to get after it.’ So don’t be surprised if coordinator Marty Morninhweg accommodates him with some deep shots and gadget plays. The Ravens are dead last in passing (165 yards/game) and in yards per play. Their reaching duo of Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace would sound better if this was 2012.
The Packers must be as successful with the pass rush as they were last weekend. Clay Matthews draws a favorable matchup against right tackle Austin Howard. After Nick Perry’s breakout performance last week, let’s hope Clay decides it’s his turn. Flacco is immobile and will look to check down quickly. Making him uncomfortable is paramount on Sunday.
Special teams were a concern last week, with a terrible punt return decision by Trevor Davis and a bad hold by Justin Vogel. The Pack gets some relief with the return of long snapper Brett Goode, but they need to be better on Sunday. The Ravens are always great on special teams, with the best placekicker-punter duo in the league and a good return guy in Michael Campanaro. The Pack needs to match them this weekend.
I don’t like the idea that the Ravens are coming off a bye and that Woodhead might be back. I’d also feel a lot better if Aaron Jones, Ty Montgomery and Morgan Burnett were playing. This feels like a coin toss game to me. I’m going to go a bit with my heart this time and say somehow the Pack finds a way to squeak out a win.
Packers 20 Ravens 19