The Ravens' pass defense has fared better since it gave up seven touchdowns to Peyton Manning in the season opener. The unit has still allowed some big plays, but overall, it's ranked in the top half of the league, quite an accomplishment given the poor start.
If the opener hadn't gotten so out of hand, the Ravens would probably have a top 10 pass defense.
But of course, the Ravens have climbed in the rankings against quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Matt Schaub, EJ Manuel and Ryan Tannehill – a relatively containable group. Aaron Rodgers will provide a much sterner test Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Green Bay Packers' passing attack compares to Denver's with its elite quarterback throwing to an array of dangerous targets.
No one should expect the Ravens to shut that passing attack down. On his worst day of 2013, Rodgers threw for 244 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging 332 passing yards per game while completing 66 percent of his attempts.
But if they can't shut Rodgers down, what CAN the Ravens' pass defense do Sunday?
Compete. The first half of the Denver game actually offers a pretty decent scenario for what would be acceptable. It's hard to remember, but the Ravens stopped Manning and the Broncos on their first three possessions, coming up big on a handful of third downs. The Ravens bent a bit in the second quarter but still had the lead at halftime. Playing well on third downs and in the red zone can accomplish a lot.
Tackle. Against Washington in Week 2, Green Bay's receivers gained 295 yards after the catch, the most ever recorded in the 20 years that stat has been kept. Much as they did with Miami's Mike Wallace, the Ravens need to limit the damage, wrap up and not let guys get away.
Intercept. This is a big one. Rodgers has thrown three picks in the Packers' two losses this season, and none in the Packers' two wins. If you can pick him off, you've got a chance. Of course, the Ravens have recorded only three picks this season, two by linebacker Daryl Smith. One interception from the secondary in five games is not enough.
The Ravens' pass rush, one of the league's best, obviously has helped smooth things out on the back end since Denver. That's what the Ravens really need Sunday – steady pressure on Rodgers, culminating with some hits and sacks. With help like that, the secondary could pass this challenging test.
Ravens' Formula For Winning Make Sunday Crucial
In recent years, the Ravens have forged a succession of winning seasons the same way, by playing .500 ball on the road while winning most of their home games.
If the early part of 2013 is any measure, they're probably going to need to use the same blueprint. Life on the road isn't getting any easier. The Ravens broke a four-game regular-season road losing streak last Sunday in Miami, but they had to battle and sweat to the very end to do it. So now they're 2-0 at home and 1-2 on the road.
The fallout from all that is the Ravens' home games – all of them – are really, really important. Quite simply, they need to win at M&T Bank Stadium as often as possible to provide the necessary margin for error they need when they're away.
The Ravens' home schedule isn't easy this season, with five of the eight games against 2012 playoff teams, including Green Bay on Sunday. It's crucial that they continue to max out their home-field advantage and hold serve against most of those opponents.
Don't Take Ravens' Position For Granted
With their loss in Chicago Thursday night, the New York Giants are now 0-6, a shocking record for what is usually a solid, consistent, upper-level team that contends for a playoff spot.
The Pittsburgh Steelers – another solid, consistent, upper level team – aren't doing any better at 0-4.
The Atlanta Falcons, a team that was one incompletion away from playing the Ravens in the Super Bowl in February, are 1-4.
Do the math. That's a combined 1-14 record for three teams that entered the season with high expectations, not unlike the Ravens.
I bring it up to emphasize the point that success shouldn't be taken for granted in a league that is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. The Ravens have their issues, but they're 3-2 and tied for first in the AFC North. Things could be a whole lot worse.