Two 7-6 teams who are on the cusp of the playoff picture in their respective leagues battle it out tonight in the dome of Detroit. With the way both leagues are shaking out whomever loses this match up may very well be saying goodbye to their postseason plans.
The Lions enter the game with an offense that scores more points per game, rushes for more yards a game, and passes for more yards a game. Led by WR Calvin Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, and QB Matthew Stafford, their offense ranks third in the league in total yards per game, mostly led by the 3rd ranked passing yardage per game while the rushing attack ranks 18th.
Unsurprisingly in a year that has seen Anquan Boldin walk, TE Dennis Pitta miss most of the season, and an offensive line in flux since day one, the Ravens offense is ranked 29th in total yardage. The passing attack is ranked 20th, and the rushing attack; if you can call it one, is ranked 30th.
So, throw in the towel Baltimore, this game is over, right? Not so fast. Depsite the loss of Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and a lot of new faces, the Baltimore Defense still ranks 9th in total yards given up. They are a bit more susceptible to the passing attack as the pass defense ranks 13th, but teams are still having a tough time rushing against the Ravens defense as they are the 7th best in allowing yards on the ground.
On the other hand the Lions defense is ranked 17th in total yards allowed, 16th against the pass, but 5th against the run. The Lions have also had a propensity for giving up the ball lately in their last six games, and have proven to be the key factors in their last three losses.
Important to note is the return of Dennis Pitta to the offense and his impact was felt immediately in the Vikings game. No longer will Joe Flacco have to worry about the stone hands of Ed Dickson or the fragility of Dallas Clark. Knowing that teams need to worry about Pitta, this could free up more underneath passes for Ray Rice. Pitta isn’t much of a run blocker and I don’t see his presence helping much there, especially against the Lions who feature two of the more talented DTs in the game in Suh and Fairley. What we saw out of Rice last week was a change in offensive philosophy and perhaps that makes a difference in this game as well. Elvis Dumervil may also be back for this game, helping out a Ravens pass rush attack that will be key in forcing turnovers.
For the Lions, Reggie Bush may be out, but the back up plan is a powerful Joique Bell. The Ravens usually have more trouble with the power backs more than the speedy cut back guys. Tackling fundamentals seem to be sorely lacking. The key of course is containing Calvin Johnson. Challenging him doesn’t seem to be a great idea as Dez Bryant and the Cowboys discovered, and rookie FS Matt Elam didn’t seem to get the memo as he called Johnson, “old.”
Calvin Johnson replied, and John Harbaugh also voice his impression of Matt Elam’s statement essentially saying that Johnson doesn’t exactly need the extra motivation.
Jimmy Smith, the 6’2” 200lbs corner is expected to get the call against the 6’5” and 230lbs Calvin Johsnon. The key here is that Smith is going to have to play his more physical game and not allow Johnson to get wide open. One thing I have noticed a lot of about Smith is his propensity to fall down and that he has terrible footwork. Hopefully on turf he won’t have that issue. He is going to need help so hopefully Matt Elam can provide it. The major problem with Johnson is that even when he is covered, he’s open and that is not a cliche’ in this context.
The keys of course will be trying to establish a run game. A lot of ground and pound with Leach, Rice, and Pierce. The passing attack should do well now that Pitta is back, so third downs and that crucial catch for first downs should be there. The Lions are also very thin at corner and in the secondary right now with injuries to Chris Houston and Darius Slay. The deep ball to Smith and Jones might be there tonight. They’ll have to watch out for OLB De’Andre Levy who leads the team with 6 interceptions. Protecting Joe Flacco won’t be easy as the Lions come at you with every position along their 4-3 defense and Suh can literally take over a game at times. Special teams will also have to be on the lookout for return man Jeremy Ross who has a TD on both kick and punt returns. The Ravens also can’t sleep on Bush, Bell, and Pettigrew in the passing game if they contain Johnson. If Bell gets the call due to Bush being hurt, tackle, tackle, and tackle!
Get the pass rush against Stafford, don’t allow him to get the ball out, and force him to make mistakes. Regardless of the outcome, this should be another great game that could come down to the final moments. Go figure? A last minute finish involving the Ravens, nah.