The Green Bay Packers need to be feeling good about where they're at heading into a Week 6 matchup with defending Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens. They just beat the Detroit Lions in a must-win game to keep their season on track.
Now they need to get prepared for a Ravens team that is coming off a gritty win against the Miami Dolphins. While the Ravens are only 3-2 on the year, there is little doubt that this is still one of the better teams in the league.
The Packers are going to need a specific game plan in order to go on the road and beat Baltimore. Today we'll break down specifically what the Packers need to do to be able to come away with a win in Week 6.
The Competitive Edge
Despite winning the Super Bowl last year, Joe Flacco still isn't anywhere near as talented as Aaron Rodgers. Many expected Flacco to become the next elite QB, but he's been quite pedestrian this year. He's thrown for 1,360 yards, but he has only five touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
Advantage: Green Bay
With Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice making a one-two punch, it'd be easy to give the advantage to the Ravens here. However, the Ravens currently have the second-worst running offense in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Packers, on the other hand, have averaged 141 rushing yards per game, good enough for fifth-best in the league.
Advantage: Green Bay
Of all the units for each team, there isn't a bigger difference in talent than at the receiver position. Sure, the Ravens have Torrey Smith, but the combination of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones for Green Bay is far, far superior.
Advantage: Green Bay
Getting Jermichael Finley back last week from a concussion was huge for the Packers. He's obviously the most-talented tight end in this game, but his backups of Ryan Taylor and Andrew Quarless haven't been too productive this year. Thankfully for the Packers, the Ravens combo of Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark has been rather underwhelming this year.
Advantage: Green Bay
By trading for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, the Ravens did a good job at boosting an offensive line that has struggled this season. While the Packers offensive line doesn't have the overall talent on paper that the Ravens do, it has certainly played much better this year on the football field.
Advantage: Green Bay
Both defensive lines have the ability to shut down the run. However, the reason that Baltimore gets the slight edge here is because it can also generate pressure on the quarterback. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata remains one of the best players at his position.
Had the Packers not suffered so many injuries last week, this matchup would have been much closer. However, with Clay Matthews out for a month and Brad Jones potentially missing some time, the Packers simply don't have the talent to compete with the Ravens linebackers.
Getting safety Morgan Burnett back last week was huge for the Packers. The secondary will only continue to improve, especially once cornerback Casey Hayward returns from injury. Unfortunately, even with Burnett, the Packers still have a worse secondary. Pro Football Focus grades the Packers pass defense as negative-17.0 while the Ravens come in at negative-5.0.
Both teams have decent kickers, solid punters and uncertainty in the return game. If Cobb becomes the primary return man for the Packers, they get the edge. However, until that is shown, this matchup is a push.
Packers Offense vs. Ravens Defense
The Ravens currently boast the third-best overall defense in the league according to Pro Football Focus. The only area where they've struggled defensively has been in pass coverage.
Thankfully for Green Bay, this is the strongest part of its offense. With Rodgers, Cobb, Finley, Jones and Nelson, the Packers could really be in for a big game through the air. Rodgers looked better in Week 5 against the Lions than he did in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he still didn't look like his normal otherworldly self. He missed a handful of open receivers last week, leaving a number of big plays on the field.
The Ravens pass-rushers, however, could slow down this passing game. With Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata, the Ravens have been fantastic at creating pressure this year. They currently grade out as the sixth-best pass-rushing team in the league per Pro Football Focus. Their 19 sacks on the season is the second-most in the NFL.
That means the Packers offensive line, which has played surprisingly well this season, is going to need to play their best game of the season.
The Ravens are also extremely stout against the run, allowing only an average of 89.8 rushing yards per game. The Packers, on the other hand, are averaging the fifth-most rushing yards in a game with 141 yards per game.
This game will need to be won by the Packers offense in the trenches. If Green Bay can't move the ball on the ground and the offensive line can't slow down the Ravens pass rush, this game could get ugly quick.
However, if the Packers can consistently move the ball on the ground with Lacy and keep Rodgers upright, they should be able to put enough points on the board to come away with the win.
Packers Defense vs. Ravens Offense
While the Packers defense is far from an elite unit, it's possible that the Ravens offense could make it look that way. Simply put, Baltimore has struggled mightily this season on the offensive side of the ball.
Pro Football Focus currently has Baltimore graded as the second-worst offense in the league. Its offensive line has been horrid, and it has looked awful in both the passing and ground game.
There will certainly be plenty of opportunities for the Packers defense to make plays during this game. Unfortunately, the Packers will be without Clay Matthews and Brad Jones (we'll touch on this a little more later). Without those two starters, the Packers will need other defensive players to step up in a big way.
Where the Packers could really struggle is if the Ravens can figure out how to get playmakers like Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce and Torrey Smith in open space. They'll need to be aware of Rice and Pierce as receivers out of the backfield and Smith making big plays down the field.
As long as they can create some type of pressure and limit big plays, the Packers should be able to continue to show why the Ravens remain one of the worst offenses in the league.
Up until last week, neither the Packers nor the Ravens had been outstanding in their special teams play. Baltimore has been without Jacoby Jones, and the Packers made the mistake of allowing Jeremy Ross to return kicks.
However, last week saw the special teams for both the Packers and Ravens have a big impact. Mason Crosby hit five field goals and recorded 16 of his team's 22 points in a win over the Lions while Justin Tucker hit the go-ahead field goal against the Miami Dolphins with under two minutes to go.
While neither team will likely get huge production from its unit, on paper this looks like a matchup that could ultimately come down to a late field goal.
Wednesday's Injury Report Analysis
There are a few things to gleam from Wednesday's injury report courtesy of PackerReport.com:
Bush, Hayward DNP, Jones and Matthews OUT, Mulumba DNP, Starks OUT, Van Roten OUT. #Packers injury report.— Packer Report (@PackerReport) October 9, 2013
For starters, cornerbacks Jarrett Bush and Casey Hayward haven't been ruled out for Sunday's game; they just didn't practice on Wednesday. This is definitely a sign in the right direction for the Packers to get one of their best defensive players back on the field.
The bad news is that Clay Matthews is out for at least a month, and according to Jason Wilde of ESPN.com, linebacker Brad Jones has also been ruled out of Sunday's game:
With Robert Francois out for the remainder of the season, that leaves Jamari Lattimore as the starting inside linebacker for the Packers. Lattimore is entering his third year with the team and only has 15 career tackles. Needless to say, this will be Lattimore's biggest opportunity of his short career.
Injuries have been a huge factor this season for Green Bay, and that doesn't appear to be changing this week.
The Packers Will Win If...
They win the battle in the trenches.
Will the Packers Beat the Ravens?
This means that Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang and Evan Dietrich-Smith are going to need to slow down Ngata. Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari are also going to need to have a great game against the pass-rushing duo of Dumervil and Suggs.
The good news for the Packers is that their pass and run blocking have looked better and better with each week that passes. In fact, the only starter on the offensive line who doesn't have a positive grade according to PFF is the rookie Bakhtiari. He gave up the lone sack last week and has given up a total of four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
If the Packers want to win, Bakhtiari is going to need to play his best game of the season. If he struggles, the entire Packers offense will struggle, and the Packers simply aren't talented enough on defense to win without their offense playing a huge role.