The Ravens (4-5) ended a three game losing streak last Sunday with an overtime win over AFC North leader Cincinnati. This week they go back on the road in another “must win” situation if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive.
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The Chicago Bears (5-4) have been bitten by the injury bug and won’t have starting quarterback Jay Cutler or Pro Bowl corner Charles Tillman. Last week they lost a close game to the Detroit Lions, so they also need a win to keep pace in a tight NFC race as well.
The forecast is calling for a strong chance of rain which could turn Soldier Field into a sloppy mess and make ball security an issue on both sides.
So which team prevails this Sunday? Let’s take a look at a few of the key match-ups for this game:
Ravens Cornerbacks (Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb) vs. Bears Wide Receivers (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey)
The Bears tandem of Marshall and Jeffrey are one of the best in the league and both are on pace for 1,300 yards receiving. Each has great size and should give backup Josh McCown options to choose which has the best match-up on a given play.
The Ravens secondary will be hard pressed to keep both under wraps this Sunday. It’s hard not to find a member who isn’t listed on this week’s injury report as both Webb and Smith are listed as questionable with groin issues while Safety James Ihedigbo has been dealing with a toe injury. A positive is that this group is coming off it’s best game of the season minus the Hail Mary that forced last week’s overtime. Though it will be a severe test to keep those good vibes going into Chicago this weekend.
Ravens Inside Linebacker Daryl Smith vs. Bears Running Back Matt Forte
Forte is a dual threat runner who is having a fine season with 691 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns. The Bears would love to lean on Forte early to keep the pressure off their Quarterback which would allow them to take shots downfield to their big targets later in the game.
Daryl Smith the team’s leading tackler and has been an excellent addition this off-season giving the Ravens a solid run stuffer and a backer who can drop into coverage. Smith and Jameel McClain will need to identify Forte and limit his big plays to attempt to make Chicago one dimensional.
Ravens Outside Linebacker Elvis Dumervil vs. Bears Offensive Tackle Jordan Mills
Dumervil was dominant last weekend against the Bengals picking up 2.5 sacks and harassing Andy Dalton most of the afternoon. He is now right behind Terrell Suggs for the team lead for a Baltimore pass rush that has been incredibly effective all season. The Ravens will need to continue that trend and cause a few turnovers to get a much needed road win.
Chicago starts two rookies on their line, one of which is Mills. Last week was perhaps the first time all season that the Bears line was beaten up front as Forte could muster on 1.9 yards per carry. Most of this season they’ve been excellent in pass protection so something has to give this weekend.
Ravens Running Backs (Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce) vs. Bears Defensive Front Seven
When will the Ravens running game get going? It’s a question that asked each week often followed by a disappointing answer. But if there was a game to break out – this is it. Chicago is minus six starters and is ranked statistically as the NFC’s worst run defense.
As we’ve seen most of the season the Offensive line has had breakdowns all over the place often leaving their ball carriers in No Man’s Land. Can they get the job done this Sunday? Here’s hoping.
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell vs. Bears Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker
This is one of the biggest battles this weekend. Can Jim Caldwell dial up some big plays to attack a reeling Bears defense? Last week we saw a Flea-Flicker and a cameo by Tyrod Taylor yield some positive gains. Let’s hope that part of the offensive game plan is to get the Ravens speed players Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones the ball where they can operate. The long ball has been largely absent from the Ravens offense this season but even a PI call like we saw against the Bengals can be just as effective. The Ravens offense has been putrid as times this season and Caldwell must shoulder blame as well for it’s failures. He needs to out scheme his opponent on Sunday.
Tucker has heard his critics in his first year this due to the Bears rough play under his command. He has dealt with a slew of injuries to key personnel but either way his group isn’t producing.