After a big rebound against the Raiders to get back in the win column, the Ravens come home to face the Chicago Bears. The Bears are on a short week after having played on Monday night against the Vikings, a game that they dropped. The Bears are in last place in the NFC North with a 1-4 record, while the Ravens are tied with the Steelers atop the AFC North at 3-2. The Bears lone win came against the Steelers in Week 3 via an overtime touchdown from Jordan Howard.
As the Bears face the Ravens this week, here are the top storylines to watch for.
Will the offensive line put forth another strong performance?
In its win last week against the Raiders, the biggest surprise for the Ravens was the performance of the offensive line. The Ravens banged up offensive line was excellent, and led the Ravens to their best offensive game of the year. Pro Football focus ranked the Ravens offensive line as the fourth best in the NFL in Week 5. No lineman was more impressive than Ryan Jensen, who had the top grade among all centers in Week 5 with a 94.5 overall grade.
The Bears are coming off of a performance in which they had four sacks against the Vikings. The Bears have a good defensive front with Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee and Eddie Goldman. The Ravens offensive line will need another good performance in order to keep Joe Flacco upright, and also to allow the Ravens to run the ball effectively. If the Ravens offensive line struggles against the Bears, then a performance similar to that of the Ravens offense against Jaguars and Steelers certainly is possible.
Who will get the bulk of the touches in the backfield?
Terrance West missed most of the Ravens Week 5 game against the Raiders, and will be out this week against the Bears. That leaves Javorius Allen and Alex Collins to lead the backfield once again. The question will be how the carriers are divided up.
Head coach John Harbaugh likes both backs, and both have had good moments this season. Alex Collins was the lone bright spot in both the Jaguars and Steelers game, but it was Allen that led the Ravens backfield in carries and yards. Allen had 21 carries to Allen’s 12. However, Collins averaged nearly a yard per rush more than Allen.
It’s possible that the distributions of carries last week show that Allen has won the job of starter, especially as he has much higher value than Collins in the passing game. However, I expect the Ravens backfield to stick to a committee approach. Harbaugh will likely lean on the hot hand in the backfield against the Bears.
Can the Ravens defense slow the Bears rushing attack?
The strongest unit of the Bears is their rushing attack. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have been very productive for the Bears this season. Since Brandon Williams has been out, opposing team’s have found more success running the ball on the Ravens. Williams is doubtful to play this week, and I expect him to be absent.
As a result, the Ravens defensive front, for yet another week, will be without a key play. With a rookie quarterback playing in his first road game, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Bears to attack the Ravens weakness, and hand the ball off to Howard and Cohen.
Michael Pierce and the rest of the Ravens front will need to step up and slow Howard and company if the Ravens hope to win. The Ravens can't allow the Bears to establish the run game and subsequently wear down its defense. The Ravens have to prove that they can stop a top running back without Williams. They couldn’t against Leonard Fournette or Le’Veon Bell, can they stop Jordan Howard?
Will the Ravens pass rush get to Mitchell Trubisky?
The Ravens pass rush has mostly been Terrell Suggs. Suggs leads the team with four sacks, two higher than the next closest play, Tony Jefferson. Jefferson plays safety. Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Anthony Levine Sr., Pierce, Patrick Onwuasor and Lardarius Webb each have one sack. The Ravens must take advantage of facing a rookie quarterback, and get in his face. The Ravens will need to see more from its pass rushers not named Suggs. Matt Judon, a starting outside linebacker, does not yet have a sack this season. He leads a group of players that need to make more of an impact.
If the Ravens can get into Trubisky’s face and rattle his confidence, then they will win this game handedly.
Will Marty Mornhinweg revert back to exclusively check downs?
The Ravens, finally, broke out more than just a check down pass in the offensive playbook last week against the Raiders. The first play from scrimmage of the game was a deep ball to Mike Wallace. Wallace would get another deep shot later in the game, and finished with three catches for 133 yards. On a key drive late in the game, the Ravens threw the ball beyond the sticks on third downs, something they did not consistently do at points where the offense has struggled. This week, will Mornhinweg keep the game plan that led to the team’s best offensive performance of the year, and will he revert to what made the Ravens offense anemic at points this season.
The Ravens will face the Bears at 1:00 at M&T Bank Stadium, looking to improve to 4-2 on the season and stay atop the AFC North.