Ravens vs. Lions: Breaking Down Baltimore's Game Plan

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Ravens vs. Lions: Breaking Down Baltimore's Game Plan
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens have a rough end to the 2013 season, and it starts with a trip to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions. Every game is essentially a must-win game for the Ravens with the playoff race getting tighter, but a victory won’t be easy against the Lions’ explosive offense.

Detroit is second in yards per game and sixth in points, so Week 15 will be a challenging test for Baltimore’s defense. Here are three things that Baltimore needs to focus on as they prepare to face the Lions.

 

How Do You Stop Megatron?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore defense gets to face two of the game’s best offensive players in back-to-back weeks (Adrian Peterson and now Calvin Johnson). Now the Ravens have to deal with the problem that NFL defensive coordinators lose sleep over: How on Earth do we contain Calvin “Megatron” Johnson?

This week, rookie safety Matt Elam gave Ravens defensive coaches even more to worry about. How on Earth do we contain the aptly nicknamed Megatron when he has something to prove?

For those who don’t know, Elam made some comments this week about Johnson’s age.

Not that it’s going to be a huge factor in the game, but remember the last time somebody made comments about the megastar wide receiver? That was Dez Bryant, and Johnson responded by hanging 329 receiving yards on the Dallas Cowboys.

So we return to the question at hand. How can Baltimore attempt to defend the unguardable receiver?

The Ravens cornerbacks generally stick to their sides of the field, so we won’t see one cornerback covering Johnson for the whole game. That means that the entire secondary has be on their game to limit Johnson’s effectiveness.

Jimmy Smith is the only cornerback that can come close to matching up physically with Johnson, but even then the wideout holds a big advantage standing at 6’5” and 236 pounds.

Smith has been playing excellent defense in recent weeks, but this is the most challenging test in the league.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees won’t explicitly double-cover Johnson, but there will be safety help over the top to bracket the big-time receiver. It’s a tactic he’s used against the other star receivers the Ravens have faced this season, and the defense has fared well in those matchups.

Ravens vs. Star Receivers
Wide Receiver Targets Receptions Yards
Andre Johnson 6 5 36
Antonio Brown 7 6 50
Josh Gordon 7 3 44
A.J. Green 15 8 151
A.J. Green (minus Hail Mary TD) 14 7 100
Brandon Marshall 10 4 42
Antonio Brown 8 5 59

ESPN.com

Johnson is a star among stars, however. He’s going to make plays, and Matthew Stafford is going to throw his way—a lot.

ESPN.com
Stafford looks Johnson's way an awful lot.

He was only targeted six times last week—a season low—but that had more to do with the impossible conditions than Stafford’s decision making.

The key for Baltimore is to limit the big plays. Johnson is second in the league with 20 receptions of 20 yards or longer. He is a menace on deep balls, and he’s such an athletic freak that plays like this are fairly routine for him:

Bleacher Report
GIF courtesy of Kyle Newport/Bleacher Report

If Baltimore can limit his opportunities to make huge plays down the field, they'll live with his production.

 

Reggie Bush as a Receiver

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Reggie Bush has highlight reels full of ridiculous runs where he jukes defenders out of their cleats, but he’s just as dangerous as a receiver—especially in the Detroit offense.

Matthew Stafford targets running backs in the passing game more than every other quarterback not named Drew Brees, so Bush and Joique Bell are sure to be featured against the Ravens in Week 15.

Running Backs in the Passing Game
Team RB Targets
New Orleans Saints 140
Detroit Lions 118
Atlanta Falcons 117
San Diego Chargers 109
Kansas City Chiefs 99

ESPN.com

One particular area that Baltimore needs to focus on is the screen game. Bush is so deadly in space that the linebackers need to be cognizant of situations where the Lions might pull a screen out of their playbook.

Detroit is very creative with their screen game, and they have even gotten Bush involved when he isn’t in the backfield. For example, Bush was split out wide on this play against the Cleveland Browns, but it was a designed screen all the way.

NFL GameRewind
Bush's 18-yard TD against the Browns; courtesy of NFL GameRewind.

Bush runs a quick bubble screen (yellow), and the interior offensive linemen come out to block for him (blue).

Bush weaves his way through the blocks and the defenders to take it 18 yards for the score.

The running back is going to be a factor on the ground, but he could just as easily be a dynamic receiver for the Lions. The Ravens need to be prepared for his potential impact as a pass-catcher out of the backfield—particularly on screens.

 

Pass Protection

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit hasn’t racked up a ton of sacks this season, but its pass rush has still been very good. According to ProFootballFocus (PFF), the Lions have the eighth-best pass rush in the league (subscription required).

Harry How/Getty Images

That pass rush is led by Ndamukong Suh, the second-best defensive tackle in the NFL according to PFF, who has a pass-rushing grade of plus-28.7 (subscription required).

The Ravens offensive line has been a problem all season, and Joe Flacco has been sacked 41 times this yearfourth-most in the league.

Baltimore’s O-line has to give Flacco enough protection, especially against Suh, so that he has the time to make his reads and attack the Lions secondary down the field.

 

 

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