The Baltimore Ravens won a game they couldn’t afford to lose last week, but there is no room for celebration. Their attention must quickly be turned to a Chicago Bears team that, while decimated by injury, is still dangerous—especially at home.
Even though the Bears are without Jay Cutler, backup quarterback Josh McCown has proven to be more than capable of running the offense and putting points on the board. With a host of weapons at his disposal, the Ravens secondary will need to build off its excellent showing in Week 10 to contain Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.
Some aspects of Baltimore’s game plan are predictable. For example, Brandon Marshall is always a focal point for any defense. Here are some other, less obvious things to watch out for in Sunday’s contest.
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce Split Time at Running Back
Considering all the changes that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has made to the offense, it’s a little surprising that the running back workload hasn’t been altered—Ray Rice has received approximately 70 percent of the carries in the last five games.
One explanation is the lingering hamstring injury that Bernard Pierce had sustained earlier this season. But if last week's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals is any indication, it appears that Pierce is putting that issue behind him.
Pierce showed some explosiveness and looked far more dangerous than Rice. When it comes to talking about Baltimore’s running backs, everything is relative. Pierce still managed to average only 3.9 yards per carry against Bengals, but that was a huge improvement over the team's paltry 2.8 average for the season.
The problems on the ground have more to do with the play of the offensive line than with that of the backs, but there’s no denying that Ray Rice doesn’t look right. He has been completely incapable of breaking tackles or making defenders miss.
One of ProFootballFocus’ signature stats for running backs is an Elusive Rating metric which attempts to determine how hard a runner is to bring down independent of his blocking (subscription required). Guess where Ray Rice ranks?
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He isn’t running with the same shiftiness or power that we’re used to seeing, so it’s time for Baltimore to split the carries and see which back performs better over the next few games. Rice still needs to see more snaps because of his value as a receiver, but he hasn’t looked like the better runner this year.
Chicago boasts the second-worst rushing defense in the league, giving up 129.4 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
They’ve been unable to bring down runners and have missed 82 tackles on the year. Powerful runners have found success against the Bears defense; Eddie Lacy averaged 6.8 yards per carry en route to 150 yards and a touchdown against Chicago.
Bernard Pierce was the better back last week, and he will be the better back this week. The only thing we don’t know is how many carries he’ll get.
Matchup of Elvis Dumervil vs. Jordan Mills
Any discussion about the Ravens pass rush starts with Terrell Suggs, and rightfully so. As a result, Elvis Dumervil is flying under the radar.
Dumervil has been a dominant pass-rusher opposite Suggs, and the two have combined for 17 sacks in just 10 games.
While the two outside linebackers move around sometimes, Suggs will be matched up against Chicago’s left tackle, Jermon Bushrod, for most of the game.
That allows Dumervil to face ProFootballFocus’ worst pass-blocking tackle in Jordan Mills (subscription required).
In Week 10, we saw how much a successful pass rush can help the Ravens secondary. Dumervil has the chance for another monster game, and even if he doesn’t register sacks, he will be able to generate pressure off the edge all game long.
Alshon Jeffery’s Versatility
Brandon Marshall is one of the best receivers in the game, but it looks like Alshon Jeffery is ready to join him in that upper echelon of the game’s wideouts.
Jeffery has had a breakout year, and he adds a dimension to the offense that Marshall doesn’t: versatility.
Both are big receivers, but Jeffery is even more dangerous than Marshall with the ball in his hands. The Bears like to get Jeffery the ball in space, and they use a couple of different methods to accomplish that task.
On this screen play against the Green Bay Packers, Brandon Marshall motions over to the right-hand side of the offensive formation. The motion gives Chicago an advantage on the outside, with three receivers matched up against two defensive backs.
Josh McCown gets the ball out quickly, and both Marshall and Earl Bennett pave the way for Jeffery to pick up 13 yards and a first down.
The Bears also use Jeffery on end-arounds to great success, like on this 38-yard run.
The fullback is lined up in a Strong I formation, but he goes the other way to lead block for Jeffery after the handoff. Chicago also throws in some halfback misdirection with a play-fake to Michael Bush to freeze the defense.
They used the same type of play later in the season against the Detroit Lions to pick up 28 yards.
The fullback is lined up the same way, and this time it’s Matt Forte who is used as a decoy. Jeffery is a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands, and he’s run nine times in nine games.
It’s likely that the Bears use an end-around at some point in the game, so the Ravens need to be prepared for it.
The most important thing to keep an eye on in Week 11 is whether the offense shows any signs of life. Baltimore’s defense has shown the capability to be an elite unit that can carry the team, but they won’t be able to keep winning games unless the offense can get its act together.