The 3-6 Bears with a rookie quarterback would normally be a cakewalk for the Ravens over the past several seasons, but as evidenced in their shocking 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, Baltimore cannot afford to overlook any opponent.
Here are some of the key matchups to keep an eye on this Sunday.
Justin Fields vs. “Wink” Martindale
Few teams have perplexed young quarterbacks more than the Ravens have under defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Rookie first-round quarterback Justin Fields will make his eighth start this Sunday against Baltimore since taking over the role from veteran Andy Dalton earlier this year. While the Ravens have allowed an uncharacteristically amount of big plays on defense this season, Martindale will surely have his unit foaming at the mouth this week against an offense that ranks 31st in total yards.
A common critique of Fields — dating back to his days at Ohio State — is that he tends to hold the ball too long at times. Behind an already shaky offensive line, Fields will have to get the ball out quickly in the passing game to beat Baltimore’s blitzes. Diagnosing Martindale’s bevy of blitzes is another animal entirely, as the Ravens make it difficult to determine which players will rush the quarterback and which will drop into coverage, often crowding the line of scrimmage and forcing the offense to guess who is coming.
Baltimore’s blitz rate is currently the third-highest in the NFL at 33.2%. According to sharpfootballanalysis.com, Fields has only faced one defense with a higher blitz rate than the Ravens.
Baltimore’s defensive front vs. the run
Baltimore will be without nose tackle Brandon Williams once again this week, as he has been declared out with a shoulder injury for the third game in a row. The Ravens’ defense has been able to hold up in the middle thus far without their expensive run-stuffer, with players such as Justin Ellis stepping up in Williams’ absence. Baltimore also announced that veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe will not play this season due to a back injury suffered before the start of the season. Behind Calais Campbell and Ellis, young players such as Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington will continue to see their names called to action.
Chicago currently ranks ninth in the NFL in total rushing yards and recently saw the return of running back David Montgomery from a knee injury suffered in Week 4 of the season. Rookie running back Khalil Herbert proved to be a capable starter in Montgomery’s absence, rushing for 344 yards in Weeks 5-8. The Ravens have allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards with 794 given up through nine games.
As with Baltimore, the Bears have a quarterback that is very much a part of the rushing attack. Fields has rushed for 288 yards on 58 attempts so far this season, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. It wasn’t until more recently that the rookie dual-threat began using his legs more, however, as 229 of his 288 total rushing yards have come in the last four games. Players such as inside linebacker Patrick Queen and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh will have the best chances of catching Fields outside of the pocket due to their speed.
Justin Houston vs. Larry Borom
Veteran edge rusher Justin Houston has been a welcomed addition to the Ravens’ defense this season. Houston and rookie Odafe Oweh have given Baltimore a pair of solid edge defenders, both against the run and rushing the passer. Houston, a week after notching his 100th career sack, will face a player with only a few games of starting experience under his belt. Larry Borom was selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the draft and has started the last two games at right tackle.
Borom has performed admirably thus far, but the massive experience gap could give the savvy Houston the edge on Sunday. Houston currently has a PFF grade of 77.1 to go with four sacks. The 32-year-old edge rusher may not have the juice that he once had when he led the league in sacks in 2014, but former All-Pro can still create issues for opposing offensive tackles every week.