This week the 3-2 Baltimore Ravens return home to friendly M&T Bank Stadium to face the 2-2 Green Bay Packers Sunday at 1 p.m.
The team comes home after surviving a 1-1 two-game road stretch, which featured a “throw your TV from a skyscraper and watch it flutter to earth accepting of any legal repercussions resulting from its impact’s damage” embarrassing loss in Buffalo followed by a “slight retribution but still too close for comfort” three-point victory against the Dolphins in Miami.
The Ravens find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North, which interestingly enough, involves every team in the division but Pittsburgh, who are still wandering the desert for their first win.
Here are some keys to this week’s game.
The stable seems unstable
Aside from several head-scratching decisions in the Bills game, Joe Flacco has played well this season, and has solidified himself as the team’s unquestioned offensive leader worthy of the big contract.
Meanwhile, with the exception of No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith who’s putting together a great year, Flacco’s targets have been inconsistent and injured, preventing him from establishing a solid rotation of reliable pass catchers, not exactly the formula for a high-flying passing attack.
But despite this instability so far, we are now at a point in the season where game experience and improved health should increase the productivity and reliability of the young group.
Deonte Thompson has shown great speed and body control since returning from a foot injury, both on offense and special teams. Jacoby Jones is expected to return from his “friendly fire” knee injury this week, which will help depth.
Even Tandon Doss and Ed Dickson have shown flashes and could seemingly come around to contribute meaningfully, proving that for athletes at this level the mental aspect of the game can be most important to a player’s success.
If the Ravens can establish a consistent one through four receiver set, they’ll put themselves in much better positioning for Flacco’s reads and a well-founded throwing game, imperative for winning in today’s league.
Yea but, do they have protection?
Adding to the woes of the Ravens at times looking like their forgettable offenses from the past, has been the subpar blocking from the offensive line, both in the running game, and in creating an acceptable pocket for Joe to throw from.
The Ravens have attempted to remedy part of this issue by trading for Jaguars tackle Eugene Monroe, who was not able to suit up against Miami due to the short notice of his arrival in Baltimore not allowing him enough time to learn the Ravens line calls.
Although Harbaugh hasn’t said if Monroe will play this week, we should expect him to replace Bryant Mckinnie against Green Bay, especially since Mckinnie’s response to likely being sent to the bench was to exert his most effort against the Dolphins not during plays, but in returning to the huddle, many times in fact while the play was still occurring. Man, that guy can huddle with the best of them!
Monroe’s presence should improve the struggling, effort-devoid left tackle position, but the whole line needs to play better in order to establish the run game and develop needed offensive cohesion.
Now in his 9th season, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers remains one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL. His footwork, snap decision making, and field vision allow his receivers to catch the ball in space while moving up the field for more yards. As Rodgers goes, so does Green Bay, and he hasn’t won league MVP honors for his acting skills.
But, the Packers do tend to struggle on the road, and have posted an 0-2 record thus far this year in other houses. The Ravens defense takes pride in defending their home turf, and last week’s six sacks of Ryan Tannehill went a long way in displaying the talent of their pass rush.
Teams will soon have to start blocking Terrell Suggs with three guys, a concession that Elvis Dumervil, Art Jones, Pernell Mcphee, Chris Canty, Haloti Ngata and Co. will gladly accept.
If the Ravens can take a lead and make another team’s offense one dimensional favoring the passing game, opposing quarterbacks are in for a long afternoon with these bull rushers. If anyone’s up to the challenge it’s Aaron Rodgers. And something’s gotta give….