Ever since Week 1, when Denver Peyton Manning ripped the Ravens with seven touchdowns on opening night with the whole country watching, Baltimore’s secondary hasn’t heard the end of it.
Now with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and his band of offensive weapons coming to town, the Ravens secondary sees it as an opportunity to make a statement that it’s come a long way since then.
“We’re looking at this game like we’re facing another Peyton Manning,” cornerback
For as good as Manning has been this season – which has been otherworldly with 20 touchdowns in five games – the Ravens see Rodgers as perhaps even more dangerous right now.
Smith said he views Manning as one of the best quarterbacks ever and that Rodgers is “taking steps that way.” Then he said Rodgers has a quicker release and better arm strength, right now, than Manning.
“I just think it’s the toughest test, period, so far,” cornerback
There are a number of different things to be concerned about with the Packers’ passing attack, specifically Rodgers’ ability to extend plays, his [add] accuracy, and talented receivers.
Rodgers isn’t a running quarterback, but he has excellent movement in the pocket and generally scrambles to pass. He’s constantly looking up-field while on the move.
The Ravens are accustomed to this after playing against Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger all these years. Roethlisberger and Rodgers both have a backyard playing style that puts additional stress on secondaries and can lead to big plays when things break down.
“It’s like we’re playing Ben Roethlisberger but with a more athletic quarterback,” Webb said. “Ben has power, can break tackles. Rodgers, he’s a quick quarterback.”
Baltimore says it must stay "plastered" to the Packers wideouts.
The cornerbacks and safeties know they simply will have to do their job longer. Smith said he won’t be surprised if this week in practice coaches let plays continue on even after scout team quarterback
The Packers receivers – James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – all do a good job breaking away from their man in coverage to make big plays in scramble scenarios.
“Those guys do a great job of uncovering downfield,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “They push off – they do all the different tricks of the trade to get open downfield, and they do a good job with it.”
Green Bay’s wide receivers are beasts too. They all bring something different to the table.
Cobb is the leader of the pack and a unique player. The 5-foot-10 former quarterback/receiver from Kentucky is incredibly shifty and leads the Packers with 128 yards after catch. He was a former standout special teams returner who now almost exclusively plays offense.
The Packers try to utilize Cobb’s athleticism and create mismatches by lining him up all over the field. Sometimes he’ll come out of the backfield.
“Just call him Slash, cause he’s everywhere on the field,” safety
Nelson leads the Packers with 371 receiving yards. He and Rodgers have developed a tight connection over their six years together, and specialize in back-shoulder plays that require precise timing between quarterback and receiver, but are very difficult to defend.
Jones can go off at any time. He was shut out in San Francisco in Week 1 and caught just four passes for 34 yards in Cincinnati in Week 3. But in the other two games, he caught 11 passes for 178 yards against Washington and is coming off a four-catch, 127-yard and a touchdown performance versus Detroit.
“They’ve got great receivers with Jordy, Jones, Cobb – a great trio,” Webb said. “They’re guys that can do a lot, run routes, have great speed. They’re doing it all, so we have to play great defense this week.”
Rodgers can hit them with consistency due to his pinpoint accuracy. Rodgers has the league’s seventh-highest completion rate so far this year (66.4). But he has the third-highest yards per passing attempt too (8.76).
So he’s not just padding his completion numbers with short, easy throws. He’s throwing deep and completing passes. Rodgers has completed more than 60 percent of his passes of 20 yards or more, and has a quarterback rating of 117.1 in such throws.
“He can put the ball anywhere he wants to,” Smith said.
While the Ravens are fully aware of the challenge ahead, they aren’t shrinking in the face of it.
“He’s human,” Smith said.
The Ravens are stressing tackling in their secondary this week. What hurt them in Denver was allowing the Broncos receivers too many yards after the catch, and the Packers can hurt Baltimore in the same regard.
“Nelson is going to make some great catches,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. “The guy has in every game against great players. You can’t let those things get to you. What you can’t do is you can’t give up the big play.”
The Ravens secondary has tightened up since Week 1. They allowed just 194 passing yards to Cleveland, 170 to Houston, 147 to Buffalo and 272 to Miami. That’s an average of just 196 yards over the past four games.
Pees and Ihedigbo said Baltimore’s secondary has improved across the board with communication, technique, skills and tackling. They’ve also been the beneficiary of a standout pass rush, something they’ll need again to limit Rodgers.
“We have our hands full, but we’re the right guys for the job,” Ihedigbo said. “We’re up to the task and it’s going to be a fun game on Sunday.”