The Baltimore Ravens will resume regular season action against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Hopefully they have found a way to jumpstart their struggling passing offense during the bye week. As evidenced by Thursday night’s combined 42:79 run/pass ratio from the Steelers and Titans, even the best running teams must be able to move the ball through the air when the opposition stacks the box.
Five key matchups:
QB Joe Flacco vs FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
In the midst of the worst season of his career, Flacco must push the ball downfield more often. Whether that means audibling at the line, standing tall in the pocket when under duress or going through his reads faster, his average yards per attempt has to improve if the Ravens are to make the playoffs. The frequent check downs to backs and tight ends are stalling too many drives. Waiting in the secondary will be Clinton-Dix, an All-Pro safety last season. With just one interception and three passes defensed, he has not made the same impact this season. Flacco must first force Clinton-Dix out of the box by making him respect the vertical passing game, and then be careful to avoid turnovers.
LG James Hurst vs OLB Nick Perry
Hurst has been forced to play due to a barrage of injuries on the offensive line and has played better than many thought possible this season. He may be asked to protect the blindside on Sunday, with Ronnie Stanley listed as doubtful. With seven sacks on the year, Perry is the best pass rusher on the Packers bottom third unit. He is powerful edge rusher who will line up all along Green Bay’s front. If Hurst is able to keep Perry at bay, that would certainly help Flacco’s chances of playing better.
WR Jeremy Maclin vs CB Damarious Randall
Despite missing two games with a shoulder injury, Maclin leads the Ravens with three touchdown grabs and a 44-yards per game average. His 64-percent catch rate and 11.5 yards per reception are also respectable. Maclin was particularly effective on crossing routes of intermediate depth during his eight catch, 98-yard performance in Week 9. The Packers have a middle of the road pass defense. Randall is their best ballhawk with three interceptions on the year, including a pick-6. The Ravens should have an opportunity to take some deep shots to their other receivers, but production from Maclin will be important to keep the chains moving.
OLB Matthew Judon vs RT Justin McCray
Along with Terrell Suggs, Judon has been the Ravens most consistent pass rusher this season. In his most recent game, he managed a sack, tackle for loss and two quarterback hits against Tennessee’s stout offensive line. McCray has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga, particularly when run blocking. However, with the Packers best tailbacks injured and the Ravens front tightening up against the run lately, Green Bay will likely be forced into passing situations. If Judon can harass inexperienced quarterback Brett Hundley, the Ravens should add to their league leading interception total.
CB Maurice Canady vs WR Randall Cobb
After an impressive preseason, Canady was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. He was activated before Week 9 and made his professional debut against Tennessee. Maurice displayed solid coverage in limited action and seemingly claimed the slot cornerback job away from the aging Lardarius Webb. Cobb, who was injured from a low hit by Matt Elam last time these franchises met, is not the dynamic playmaker he once was, but still a capable slot receiver. He has developed a rapport with Hundley, eclipsing 50-yards in each of his last two games. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle of Canady’s size versus Cobb’s quickness.
Prediction: The Ravens are a resilient bunch who usually fare well when given extra time to prepare. The bye week should have allowed them to correct some of their flaws. With the Packers decimated by injuries, expect another ugly contest. The Ravens pull out their first close victory of the season. Ravens 19, Packers 16.