The Ravens are set to take on the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium (1 p.m. ET).
BR.com offers a look at Baltimore’s next opponent.
Total Offense – 26th (302.9 ypg) Total Defense – 30th (388.2)
Rush Offense – 25th (94.8) Rush Defense – 19th (113.4)
Pass Offense – 20th (208.1) Pass Defense – 32nd (274.8)
Points Per Game – 25th (17.2) Points Per Game – 32nd (29.8)
Sizing Them Up
The Lions are undergoing a rebirth under new head coach Jim Schwartz after a winless 2008 campaign. Schwartz, a Baltimore native, is doing well to change the losing mentality in Detroit and building behind top-overall draft pick Matthew Stafford.
The rookie quarterback will not be playing on Sunday, however, with a sprained AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder. That leaves the burly Daunte Culpepper under center, giving the Lions a scrambling threat in the pocket.
Running back Kevin Smith is a versatile weapon out of the backfield that will be used heavily in the running and receiving games. Smith is gaining yards behind an offensive line that features two first-round draft picks in left tackle Jeff Backus (2001) and Gosder Cherilus (2008).
But, the most-dangerous Lion is receiver Calvin Johnson, who is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. He is big, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, fast and has tremendous hands and fearlessness in traffic.
Defensively, Detroit has had its share of problems, but the unit is helmed by linebackers Julian Peterson, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims. All three are talented tacklers, although Sims has missed the last three games with a slight tear in his left hamstring. Ravens fans will remember Foote from his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In their secondary, the Lions feature rookie safety Louis Delmas, whom the Ravens were interested in for the 2009 draft. Delmas is second on the team with 69 tackles and boasts six pass deflections.
Mike O’Hara of the Detroit News writes that Culpepper can increase his stock with a solid performance on Sunday.
“If Culpepper can lead the Lions to a road victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday -- and the Ravens are far more beatable than their record (6-6) and reputation suggests -- it would do more to enhance his value than his statistics.”
Chrissie Wywrot of DetroitLions.com has an interesting look into Delmas’ aspiration to be more like Ravens safety Ed Reed.
“Delmas, a Miami native, began following Reed when he was a senior with the Hurricanes. That year, Delmas was only 14 years old, but can remember the first game he ever saw Reed.”
It’s not looking good at tight end for Detroit, according to Detroit Free Press reporter Carlos Monarrez.
“Top tight end Brandon Pettigrew is on injured reserve and if [Casey] Fitzsimmons does not play, that means the Lions are left with Will Heller and rookie Dan Gronkowski, who made his season debut at Cincinnati."
Offensive – Johnson is one of the NFL’s best receivers, and he is leading the team with 47 catches for 730 yards and four touchdowns. The Georgia Tech product is also averaging an impressive 15.5 yards per grab this season. Johnson nearly always commands a double team, and the Ravens will likely play him as such on Sunday.
Defensive – Foote was a solid offseason pickup for the Lions. He’s cashing in with a team-leading 87 tackles and has two sacks. His veteran leadership has won over the locker, as well. Foote’s Lions teammates voted him as a captain this offseason.
S Louis Delmas
A second-round selection, Delmas is emerging as one of the top defensive playmakers in the league. Adding to his 69 tackles, he is coming off a week where he posted a career-high 10 tackles against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Lions Secondary
The young quarterback must shake off a recent spate of poor performances, and he’ll be able to do it against the league’s worst pass defense in yardage allowed. The Lions like to bring Delmas up in run support, leaving opposing wideouts single covered, which could allow for some opportunities for Flacco.
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Lions RB Kevin Smith
Smith is one of those shifty backs that can do it both running and catching the ball, so he will likely get a lot of touches. In the passing game, Smith gets shorter throws right around Lewis’ area. Lewis should have a busy day.
Schwartz on if the Lions will look to attack the Ravens’ pass defense: “It’s something that we always look to have in our offense. We need to make some plays down the field, but that goes hand-in-hand with being able to run the football. When you can run the football and you can force teams to get in the eight-man fronts, you can attack outside. We haven’t run the ball consistently enough this year to do that, to open up our wide receivers the way that we need to. I think the matchup is there and our ability to get the ball downfield is really going to depend on how well we run the football, and if we can do that, then it may open up some things downfield. That’s really no different from us than the Ravens and any other NFL team. Everybody’s in that same boat. But, it’s not just our wide receivers; it’s our run game also.”
Johnson on how tough it has been to lose 18-straight games on the road: “Yeah, it’s a monkey on our back right now. It’s definitely something that you want to throw out the window. So, hopefully we’ll have our stuff together when we go [to Baltimore] on Sunday."
Of course, this is a critical game for the Ravens. Still clinging to playoff hopes, those will be dashed with a loss to the lowly Lions.
It’s not simply about a win, though. Sure, the win is important, but the Ravens must win this battle convincingly and generate a little momentum as they continue their postseason push.
The main thing is getting Joe Flacco to bust out of a slump that included a career-worst three interceptions last week against the Green Bay Packers. He’ll have a chance to gain more confidence against a Detroit pass defense that has allowed 27 passes of 25 or more yards this year.
Still, this could play out one of two ways for the Ravens’ offense:
- Put the game on Flacco’s arm and let him attempt to carve up the Lions’ secondary, or
- Protect Flacco and revert to the pounding rushing attack that carried the Ravens to the AFC Championship last year.
More likely, it will be a mix of both. I would expect Flacco to have more than enough opportunities to get back on track, but with a wintry mix scheduled to hit M&T Bank Stadium, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain might be used to muck it up.
But the Ravens need to re-establish their offensive identity, as wins will become tougher and tougher down the stretch.