Previewing Week 11: Ravens at Packers
The Ravens are coming off their bye week and despite a disappointing first half of the season, they are still in good position to win a Wild Card playoff berth largely because of the mediocrity of the AFC and an easy schedule down the stretch. They will have to be more consistent in the second half of the season, but if the team can stay relatively healthy the odds of making a run are good. The Ravens caught a major break as they will be heading to Green Bay to face a Packers team that will be without Aaron Rodgers. Brett Hundley will be the 4th back-up QB the Ravens have faced this year, and they are 2-1 in the 3 previous contests. A healthy and rested Ravens team should be able to take advantage of this situation against a Packers team that the Ravens have had struggles against in their recent meetings.
The Packers offense without Rodgers has been a shell of the well-oiled machine that it normally looks like. Hundley may not be the worst back-up in the league, but the offense is built to run through Rodgers and no QB in the NFL is capable of replicating his level of play. Mike McCarthy has turned the Packers offense into what is essentially a dink and dunk offense, as he is unwilling to take the training wheels off of Hundley. They have tried to control their offense by running the ball, but talented rookie Aaron Jones is out with a knee injury and starting RB Ty Montgomery may also be out due to a rib injury. The Packers talented group of WRs are under-utilized as the offense does not push the ball down the field with Hundley at the helm.
The Ravens defense has made progress in the past 2 games in stopping the run, and if they can shut down the Packers rushing attack they will have a good chance to completely halt their offense. Dean Pees won’t have to call a very complex game-plan in this one, and I would expect him to use his usual mix of coverages with DB blitzes on 3rd downs to pressure Hundley who is prone to looking at the rush and taking sacks. This may also be the week where we see OLB Tim Williams involved a bit more in the Ravens defensive game-plan as he should finally be healthy and ready to make an impact. Bottom-line for the defense is to keep Brett Hundley and the Packers offense in 3rd and long where the Ravens have been very good this year.
The real question for the Ravens will be how does their offense look after the bye week. Joe Flacco has come out and stated that he wants to be more aggressive in attacking downfield, and that might be a good place to start as Flacco currently has more passes that have gone for negative yards than 20+ yards downfield. The offensive line play hasn’t been great and receivers have struggled to get open and catch the ball at times, but Flacco has been too willing to just check the ball down at times. Play design/ play-calling has also been a problem for the Ravens offense, as far too many first looks have gone to players at or behind the LOS as first options. Part of this is a personnel problem, but players like WRs Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin need to be used more creatively. They are the best playmakers on the team right now, and they need to be utilized more. It should also help the Ravens that RB Danny Woodhead will be eligible to return from the IR this week. His ability to get open underneath on routes aside from basic dump-offs has been greatly missed.
The Packers defense has not been great this year, but it is not terrible either. The Ravens should be able to run the ball with RBs Alex Collins and Buck Allen to a certain extent, but they will have to be better at converting on 3rd downs to be more effective than they have been through the first half of the season. This Sunday may be a good time to get back on track as the Packers have one of the worst 3rd down defenses in the NFL, allowing opposing teams to convert 42.5% of the time. To put that into context only 6 teams in the NFL convert at that rate or better on average, and the Ravens are near the bottom of the league at 34.1%.
This is an important game for the Ravens and a chance for them to get back in the driver’s seat for an AFC Wild Card berth. They caught a huge break by playing the Packers without Rodgers, but it will likely still be a challenge to go into Green Bay and come out with a win. The game looks to be played in freezing temperatures which could affect one the Ravens best advantages in the kicking game. If the Ravens can limit mistakes in this game they should come out on top 22 – 17.