What We Learned While Watching Two Ravens' Opponents Battle It Out
As the Ravens head into their bye, they got a unique look at two upcoming opponents battling it out on Monday Night Football.
The Detroit Lions (4-4) snapped a three-game losing streak by dominating the NFC North rival Green Bay Packers (4-4) with a 30-17 win (the score made it look closer than it really was). The Packers have now lost three in a row since losing starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone.
Baltimore visits Green Bay after the bye on Nov. 17, then hosts Detroit two weeks later on Dec. 3. Here's what we learned about the two upcoming foes:
1) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford returned to 'MVP form' as he dismantled the Packers defense.
There was no slowing the Lions signal caller. He was dropping dimes all over the field Monday, including two gorgeous touchdown passes. His offensive line, which includes former Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner, gave him plenty of time to throw and he took advantage of it. NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman was so impressed with Stafford's outing that he believes he's playing at an MVP level.
"Matthew Stafford is feeling it," Bergman wrote. "The Lions quarterback was zoned in the second consecutive week against Green Bay, throwing with superior anticipation and touch for 361 yards at 11.4 yards per attempt. … His psychic timing with [Marvin] Jones and Golden Tate was Aaron Rodgers-esque in the injured QB's own building.
"When Stafford is rolling, his offense seems invincible … His return to MVP form comes at the perfect time for a Lions team that had lost three straight before Monday evening."
2) Ravens defense has to watch out for Lions wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.
The Ravens' third-ranked pass defense will get one of its toughest tests of the year against Stafford and his two highly productive receivers from last night in Marvin Jones (seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns) and Golden Tate (seven catches for 113 yards).
Tate was Stafford's security blanket for the night, and Jones proved to be a scoring threat with impressive catches in the end zone.
"For a long time, Doug Baldwin's held the title of 'most underrated wideout in the NFL,' but his old teammate Golden Tate might be taking the title belt from him," wrote CBSSports.com's Will Brinson. "Tate, who has established himself as the top weapon in Detroit after coming in free agency and seeing Calvin Johnson leave, consistently makes incredible plays that you don't see coming. His toe-tap against the Packers was something that looked, well, impossible."
3) Ravens will try to take advantage of the Rodgers-less offense in Green Bay, as backup Brett Hundley was solid but 'by no means dynamic.'
As impressive as Stafford looked, the Packers' Brett Hundley struggled to fill in for the always-impressive Rodgers.
Before the game, Rodgers teased Packers fans.
Alas, it wasn't to be.
"Stafford's stellar evening highlighted all the more his lack of competition on the other side of the ball," wrote Bergman. "In his third game filling in for Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley (245 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt) improved only marginally upon his past limited performances."
Green Bay didn't try to do too much with Hundley, who stuck with a short passing attack by throwing 27 of his 35 passes (not including throwaways) for 10 yards or less, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). The Ravens pass rush will want to bring the heat against Hundley, as he struggled when pressured.
"Although he by no means was dynamic, he was accurate when the offensive linemen kept the pocket clean," the PFF analyst team wrote. "Under no pressure, Hundley was 24-of-30 for 240 yards with a passer rating of 100.0. When pressured, Hundley was just 2-of-8 with a passer rating of 39.6."
Even when he had a clean pocket, Hundley seemed to get restless.
"Hundley was wholly unimpressive, especially having spent three years in the Packers' system and having two weeks to prepare for this game against the Lions," wrote Brinson. "Multiple times, he had pretty decent pockets and decided to escape non-existent pressure, putting himself in a difficult position to make a throw."
4) The Ravens defense can afford to give up yards, but not touchdowns. That's what could happen against Detroit, which never had to punt, but struggled in the red zone.
It won't be surprising if the Lions are able to put up some solid drives on Baltimore, but the defensive unit will want to adopt the "bend but don't break" mentality if it happens.
The Lions didn't have to punt a single time, which hasn't happened for Detroit since 1971. They did turn the ball over once and missed a field goal, but they consistently moved the ball and picked up first downs. Once they got to the red zone, however, they had trouble punching in the end zone.
"Detroit's 'Wild and Sticky Adventures in the Red Zone' continued Monday," Bergman wrote. "The Lions took four trips inside the 20-yard line and only two ended in six, a better stat than their oh-fer against the Steelers, but still..."
5) Detroit and Green Bay are headed in opposite directions. The Lions will be especially motivated to beat the Ravens, as they are putting themselves in playoff contention.
After starting with an impressive 4-1 record and being favored to win the division, Green Bay now finds itself in the middle of the pack of the NFC wild-card race. The Packers haven't won since Oct. 8.
"These are uncharted waters for the Packers, who are without a consistent deep-ball element and an identity on offense for the first time in nearly three decades," Bergman wrote. "McCarthy and Co. have not yet figured out how to move the ball in a post-Rodgers world."
Meanwhile, the Lions are suddenly playing strong and are making a play for the division, as they are trying to creep up on the Minnesota Vikings (6-2). Of the Ravens' remaining opponents, the Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers right now look to be the most formidable.
"This was a massive win for the Lions," Brinson wrote. "It was an easy win in a sense, because they were never in danger of losing. But it was massive: they are now two games back of the Vikings and would have been three games back if they don't go into Lambeau Field and get a 'W.'"
6) Lions' touchdown celebration deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best of the year.
Kudos to Detroit for this Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robot touchdown celebration. The Lions have put their celebration creativity on display, and I especially enjoyed this one.
Taylor Lewan Complained About Lack of Protection for His QB, And So Did Terrell Suggs
If you watched Sunday's broadcast of the Ravens-Titans game, you saw Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan nearly lose his mind after Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon leveled quarterback Marcus Mariota.
His rant continued into the locker room.
"Don't hit our quarterback," Lewan said, per Titan Insider's Terry McCormick. "It's bull [expletive]. I'll say it again, it's bull [expletive]; it's bull [expletive]. Bull [expletive].
"Why is it they throw flags on the Thursday night on [Joe] Flacco, but 8 [Mariota] gets hit late all the time and they do that? It's ridiculous. It's getting out of hand. People get mad and go, 'Oh, you're doing too much.' No. If they're not gonna do it, then we need to do it."
It's mind-boggling to me that Lewan would compare Judon's legal hit to Kiko Alonso's clearly illegal hit that concussed Flacco, but I give him props for sticking up for his quarterback.
That said, I second what Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday about Judon's hit.
"Good football play, and I don't think anyone questioned that one, but their crowd, probably," he said Monday. "But everyone knows that was a good football play."
Everyone except for Lewan.
Coincidentally, you may have missed outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' subtle jab Sunday at officials for not protecting Flacco. Suggs was asked whether Za'Darius Smith was deserving of a 15-yard penalty after he barely touched Mariota and a ticky-tack flag was thrown.
"In this league, the refs are going to protect the quarterbacks, except for ours, of course," Suggs replied.
"Suggs' criticism is likely in reference to the officials not ejecting [Alonso] for his concussion-inducing hit to the head of Flacco on Oct. 26 and the league levying a not-so-hefty $9,115 fine rather than suspending him," wrote ESPN.
"On Sunday, Baltimore linebacker Za'Darius Smith received an unnecessary roughness penalty just like Alonso, although his contact with the quarterback on the second-quarter play wasn't even close to being as severe. Smith nudged Mariota out of bounds after the Titans quarterback had thrown the ball away."
Harbaugh: We're in It. There's No Doubt About It
Harbaugh told media Monday that his team knew it missed a big opportunity to get ahead in the AFC wild-card race, but that doesn't mean the Ravens are throwing in the towel. That would be silly.
He also knows his team is still in the thick of things.
Here's a look at the AFC North standings through nine weeks:
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-2
- Baltimore Ravens: 4-5
- Cincinnati Bengals: 3-5
- Cleveland Browns: 0-8
Here's a look at the overall AFC playoff picture:
- Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-2
- New England Patriots: 6-2
- Kansas City Chiefs: 6-3
- Tennessee Titans: 5-3
- Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-3
- Buffalo Bills: 5-3
- Miami Dolphins: 4-4
- Baltimore Ravens: 4-5
- Oakland Raiders: 4-5
- New York Jets: 4-5
"The Ravens are not out of the wild-card race by any stretch," wrote Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy. "They are 1.5 games behind the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. However, they would lose the tiebreaker with both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills."