As part of our weekly stories, this week we turn to trying to figure out which Packers team will show up to protect the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Monday Night Football. Will it be the one that has one three in a row, including an impressive almost-shutout of the Dallas Cowboys (17-7) or the one that barely beat the 49ers and lost in Tampa Bay?
I can pretty much guess which one both the Ravens and Packers' fans hope to see in what will be the first night game in December in Packers history this Monday. Last I heard, temperatures are expected to be in the teens with a chance of snow. The weather will certainly play to Green Bay's favor, as they are a lot more used to those conditions than the Ravens are, and the worse it is, the bigger the Packers' advantage, which is already big enough, considering the game is on prime time TV and the Packers, along with the Ravens are both still thick in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Both teams are fighting for Wild Card berths, with the Packers three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North and the Ravens the same distance behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. So then how do the Ravens go onto the hallowed grounds of Lambeau and roll out of there with a win to go 3-0 on national TV this year?
Simply put, this game appears to break down to just one of the group battles that we talk about so often on The Beatdown. Usually we go right to the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I usually say it all starts and stops with the big guys inside and if we control the offensive and defensive lines then we will win the ballgame. This week, we can get even more specific than that. The Packers either win or lose their games based on their ability to protect their prolific passer, Aaron Rodgers in the pocket. He has been sacked and hit more often than any other NFL quarterback and when he is pressured and harassed, he is nowhere near effective then when he is comfortable sitting back there waiting for his great group of wide receivers and tight ends break into the open. When untouched, he will torch the secondary and the Ravens DB's can ill afford him that luxury. We have not been very good at all at covering for any length of time and with so many solid targets, time is absolutely at the essence of what the Ravens need to do in order to win.
Therefore, it all is pointing at Baltimore's ability to get a pass rush on Rodgers enough to force him to release the ball sooner than he intends to or hold onto the ball too long that will lead to either sacks, hits and ultimately, interceptions to shorten the field for our offense to score. Better yet, rather than sack Rodgers, make him throw into coverage (translated: Ed Reed) so that we come away with a sweet defensive TD for a change of pace and to unlevel the playing field.
I have a lot of confidence the Ravens will be able to move the ball against Green Bay's #1 rated defense. Ray Rice should make their linebackers miss and if they choose to put Charles Woodson on Rice, then Derrick Mason will make their other DB's pay with key completions off the rocket arm of Joe Flacco. Mark Clayton seems to make the difficult catches (even if he also drops the easier ones!) and the Ravens have proven in the past that they can move the ball and score on anyone. If the Ravens can get off to a good start with points early in the game, they can put the pressure on the Packers to play catch up. If the game plays the other way around, it could be difficult for the Ravens to play from behind and that could get ugly.
However, if the Ravens go back to the formula that had them beat the San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and almost catch and beat the Minnesota Vikings, then they can certainly hang, compete and even defeat the Green Bay Packers. That means going back to the old fashioned gameplan of giving the ball to our running backs and let them wear down the defense with the pounding form our big FB and the darting around by our elusive RB. Then throw when they least expect it and are forced into tougher coverages as they creep up to stop the run game.
Solid Special Teams play on both sides of the ball and not allow the big play from the Packers high flying offense (or at least not too many of them!). Play like a Raven (did last season and the beginning of this one!). Pressure the QB, pressure the QB and after that, pressure the QB.
Is that clear enough?