Sunday's game in Chicago could be a tipping point in the season.
The Ravens are feeling good after breaking a three-game losing streak against the first-place Cincinnati Bengals last week. They've got a critical three-game home stretch coming up.
Sandwiched in between are the Bears, a talented but banged-up team. If the Ravens can beat the Bears, it could be the start of a bit of a streak heading towards the playoffs. If not, the momentum from last week's win will dissipate.
"If we don't take care of business this week, there's no point in worrying about what could have happened," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "We've got to worry about what we can control, and that's this game."
The Ravens are 1-4 on the road this year, and need to solve that problem going to Chicago.
Matchups To Watch
ILB Daryl Smith vs. RB Matt ForteForte may be the Bears' best all-around weapon because he is both dangerous as a runner and pass catcher. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees compared Forte to Houston's Arian Foster. Smith has been nursing a thigh injury this week, and will have a lot on his plate covering Forte in the middle and in open space.* *
CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR Brandon Marshall
Webb and Marshall had a love fest this week. Marshall said Webb used to "dominate" him when they faced off a few years ago, and that Webb is getting back to his top-five form. Webb said he's going to have a lot on his hands trying to handle Marshall. Marshall has a six-inch size advantage, and could also draw attention from Jimmy Smith.* *
WR Marlon Brown vs. CB Zach Bowman
The Bears are without top cornerback Charles Tillman, meaning Bowman will likely get the start. Brown was quiet last week (one catch for 10 yards) after notching two touchdowns the previous week. With the Ravens' run game struggling, Brown needs to break loose against the backup cornerback and take some of the heat off Torrey Smith.
Keys To The Game
Take advantage, run the ballThe Ravens haven't been able to run the ball effectively all year, ranking last in average yards per carry. This week could present their best opportunity remaining. The Bears are ranked 31st in the NFL in run defense, allowing an average of nearly 130 rushing yards per game. With rain in the Chicago forecast and being on the road, a solid day on the ground would be huge for Baltimore.* *
Protect the football
The Bears lead the NFL with 17 forced fumbles this season, and they've recovered eight. If it rains, the ball will be slick. But the Ravens have to make sure they hang onto it. Baltimore practices with wet balls throughout the week, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said he hopes that work pays off. Running back Ray Rice had a couple fumbles earlier in the year but hasn't put the ball on the ground over the last four games.
Limit the big play wide receiversIf the Bears are going to win, it's tough to do so on the arm of backup quarterback Josh McCown. He likely won't be asked to do too much, but McCown has a bunch of big-time weapons around him, particularly at wide receiver. Marshall and second-year player Alshon Jeffery have the most receiving yards of any duo in the league. The Ravens can't let them hit huge gains. Make the Bears march.