After a long run of facing backup quarterbacks, the Ravens are gearing up to go against a bona fide franchise quarterback this week.
"Matthew Stafford is an excellent player, one of the best quarterbacks in football, without question," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday.
Stafford, who will lead the Detroit Lions against the Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, represents a departure from what the Ravens have experienced lately. Since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger on Oct. 1, they've faced backup signal-callers in six of their past seven games. The exception was the Tennessee Titans' Marcus Mariota.
Stafford, meanwhile, is well on his way to a seventh consecutive 4,000-yard passing season. He ranks fifth in the league in passing yardage, seventh in completions and has tossed 21 touchdown passes against six interceptions. Both of his primary targets, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr., are among the league's top 20 wide receivers.
As a team, the Lions rank seventh in the league in completions of 20 or more yards, and they're tied for second in completions of 40 or more yards.
"They throw the ball a lot and do a great job with it; they lead the league in big-play passes and spread it around pretty evenly," Harbaugh said. "Stafford is the leader of it. He directs the whole thing."
Speaking generally about Detroit's offense, Harbaugh said it was "different from some of the offenses we've played the last few weeks for a lot of different reasons; how they're set up, who they have out there and the schemes they run."
Ravens safety Eric Weddle acknowledged that Stafford, Tate, Jones and the rest of the Lions' passing game will pose a challenge to the Ravens' highly-ranked pass defense.
"They're explosive wideouts," Weddle said. "Marvin is a playmaker up the field, dynamic catching the ball, in the air. Golden has been making plays since I can remember … with the ball in his hands. Good route runner, but when he has the ball in his hands, he turns into like a running back-slash-rhinoceros and just spins out of tackles and is a huge playmaker."
The Houston Texans' DeAndre Hopkins grabbed seven catches for 125 yards against the Ravens Monday night, becoming one of few opposing receivers to enjoy success against Baltimore this season. Tate and Jones surely will try to replicate that success, only with a more dangerous quarterback throwing to them.
"Those two guys, we'll have our hands full with them," Weddle said. "We've just got to make life tough for them. Play our technique, fundamentals, and when the ball is in the air, we've got to make plays just as much as they do."