5 Bold Predictions for the Green Bay Packers' Week 6 Matchup with the Ravens
While both teams' defenses played a big role in winning those championships, this matchup's outcome will, however, depend upon which offense is able to score more points in what should be the top shootout in the NFL this week.
And with a potential track meet on the horizon for the Packers and Ravens this week, that means some of these players will accrue some eye-popping stats.
Jermichael Finley Breaks Through with a 3-Touchdown Game
The Ravens defense has struggled in trying to cope without future Hall of Famer linebacker Ray Lewis and former All-Pro safety Ed Reed. And the loss of those players have been clearly evident in Baltimore trying to defend the tight end.
The defending champs allowed the Denver Broncos' Julius Thomas to notch a five-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown performance against them in Week 1 and then allow Cleveland Brown Jordan Cameron to tally five grabs for 95 yards the following game.
Even though the Ravens got better in that department after the Cleveland game, Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels still got lose for five grabs, and unheralded Charles Clay found the end zone in Baltimore's win over the Miami Dolphins.
Jermichael Finley, meanwhile, has been one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets over the middle this season. Despite missing almost all of Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Finley has snared 17 of his 22 targets already this season, including two scores.
With the talented Ravens defensive backs Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith having their hands full covering Packers wide receivers Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, Finley should be a centerpiece of Green Bay's offense again this week.
Seeing Finley put up a monster 11-catch, 120-yard performance, with three scores, would be tremendous, but it's certainly not all that unlikely to happen. The closest offense that Baltimore has seen this year to Green Bay's was the Denver game, when they allowed quarterback Peyton Manning to play pitch-and-catch with Thomas all night long.
Joe Flacco Picks Apart the Packers Defense for 400 Yards
If a defense gives any quarterback in the NFL enough time, he'll be able to move his offense up and down the field—even the struggling Joe Flacco. Matthews' broken thumb could not have come at a worse time for the Packers.
Instead of counting on his constant quarterback pressure, the Packers will be forced to blitz more, leaving more time for the red-hot Raven's receiver Torrey Smith to find open holes in the Green Bay secondary.
Flacco is not the most talented signal-caller in the NFL, but he is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and talented and disciplined enough to take what the defense gives him. Flacco threw for 362 yards against the undefeated Broncos and 347 in a close loss to the Buffalo bills, so he definitely has it in him to complete a couple extra passes to hit 400.
Wide receiver (and expected starter) Jacoby Jones as well as fellow wide receiver Marlon Brown are expected to return from injuries this week, so for the first time this season, Flacco will have all of his wideout ammo at his disposal. The fact that both of these teams will not have their defenses at full strength will only increase the chances of an aerial attack in Baltimore.
The Green Bay Defense Fails to Register a Turnover or Sack
With Matthews on the shelf for at least a month, starting inside linebacker Brad Jones questionable to play and his backup Rob Francois already on injured reserve, Green Bay is a pretty battered team one week removed from its bye week.
Last year's rookie sensation, Casey Hayward, still isn't back, and safety Morgan Burnett is still shaking off the rust of playing in his first regular-season game a month into the season last week. All of this has the Ravens offense licking its chops.
The lack of a pass rush, without Matthews, stuck out last season when the linebacker missed four games. Green Bay could only muster seven sacks in those games. The cupboard might be even more bare this year with second-year man Nick Perry tabbed with generating the outside pressure Matthews provided.
Perry just tallied his first two sacks of 2013 this past week, playing on the other side of Matthews against the Detroit Lions. Now defensive-lineman-turned-outside-linebacker Mike Neal will be playing opposite Neal—a significant downgrade from the threat that Matthews provided.
The Packers defense is predicated on an organic pass rush that allows ball-hawking safeties Burnett and M.D. Jennings to roam the secondary and make plays. If they are expected to cover more ground because of an extra defender needing to generate a pass rush, it will handcuff their playmaking capabilities.
It will be a long day for the Green Bay defense if they are playing a scramble-and-chase game rather than a turnover-forcing strategy like they are accustomed to.
Aaron Rodgers Leads the Packers to 5 Touchdowns on the Road
Don't think for a minute that Rodgers will allow Flacco and company to run up and down the field without him getting his say. Shootouts are two-way streets, and Rodgers has been on the winning side of plenty of them.
In the former league and Super Bowl MVP's arsenal will be Cobb, Nelson and Jones—three of the top 25 wide receivers in the NFL in terms of yardage. He has one of the biggest tight end mismatches in the league in Jermichael Finley.
And with running backs Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and James Starks each having 99-plus yard games so far this season, the threat of a running game will keep the Baltimore defense from hanging back in the secondary.
When you couple all of those playmakers with the No. 1 run-blocking offensive line in the NFL right now, according to Pro Football Focus, five touchdown drives doesn't seem all that bold. But the odds are still against Green Bay notching 35 points in Baltimore Sunday.
Ray Rice Fails to Crack the 50-Yard Mark on the Ground
Rice is one of the more talented backs in the NFL who plays in an offense that depends upon an effective ground attack to win games. In fact, Baltimore is so rush dependent, Bernard Pierce—Rice's backup—often figures to play a big role in moving the chains each week.
But if I'm correct, this game will be more of a match that pits Flacco against Rodgers rather than Lacy and Rice duking it out in a good old-fashion battle of field position.
The Green Bay linebacking corps is decimated right now with Matthews out, Jones a question mark and a converted lineman in Neal projected to start. With the personnel the Ravens will be facing, Baltimore could probably achieve a modicum of success by trying to gash these backups with Rice between the tackles. However, they are much more susceptible through the air.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers would have a much easier job if the Ravens decided to run right at the powerful (if lumbering) Perry, Neal, A.J. Hawk and Jamari Lattimore.
But if the Ravens choose to get Rice and Pierce in space out in the flat, that's where the Packers' linebacking weakness can be exploited. So while Rice may have a slow day on the ground, he certainly won't have a slow day overall.
Rice should catch five or six passes out in the flat or on screens. But I still don't think it will be enough for the Ravens to protect home field. This pace favors Green Bay, and it's why I see them winning, 38-34, against Baltimore in a highly entertaining Week 6 game.