The Ravens are set to take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 6th (382.0 ypg) Total Defense – 1st (281.5)
Rush Offense – 11th (119.2) Rush Defense – 4th (89.1)
Pass Offense – 6th (262.8) Pass Defense – 6th (192.5)
Points Per Game – 6th (26.9) Points Per Game – 12th (19.5)
Sizing Them Up
The Packers are one of the NFL's hottest teams, having won three straight games with a high-powered offense and the top-rated defense in the league. Led by head coach Mike McCarthy, Green Bay also enjoys the benefit of having an extra three days of rest following last week's Thanksgiving Day contest against the Detroit Lions.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been lights out of late, as a Packers offensive line that has been plagued by injury finally seems to be coming together. Rodgers is the most-sacked quarterback around with 44 on the season, but he has only been taken down three times in the last two games.
Rodgers' big arm and mobility are what sets him apart. He boasts an impressive 104.9 passer rating, throwing for 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions on the year.
It is almost an embarrassment of riches when looking at Rodgers' targets. Donald Driver, who is the Packers' all-time leading receiver, boasts 53 catches for 845 yards and five touchdowns. The speedy Greg Jennings has 47 grabs for 722 yards, and tight end Donald Lee owns an impressive 30 receptions.
Running back Ryan Grant handles the ground duties, as he has 209 of Green Bay's 303 team carries. Grant is averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, with 890 yards and five scores.
Defensively, the Packers made a switch from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 with the addition of respected coordinator Dom Capers. The Packers are banged up at the key outside linebacker position with Aaron Kampman ruled as out for the game with a knee injury, but rookies Clay Matthews, a first-round draft pick, and Brad Jones have filled in admirably on the pass rush.
Inside, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins is a 300-pound run stuffer that adds to the pass rush, as he has 4.5 sacks on the year. And, the Packers' defense could not be looked at without noticing cornerback Charles Woodson, who is tied for third in the league with seven interceptions. Woodson is also second on the team with 60 tackles.
What's Up?* *
Tom Fanning of Packers.com points out how young running back Brandon Jackson is seeing much more time on third down.
*"Eight of Jackson's 11 catches this season have come on third down, tied for third most on the team, and he has picked up 84 yards on those receptions (10.5 avg.)." *
Packers.com's Mike Spofford recounts a scary moment at Packers practice this week regarding linebacker Jason Thompson, who was taken to the hospital with a neck injury.
"Thompson, who battled neck and shoulder stingers throughout training camp this past summer, went down late during Friday's practice with what was originally termed another neck stinger. Thompson remained down for several minutes and an ambulance was summoned to take him to St. Vincent Hospital, also in Green Bay, for a complete battery of tests."
Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that the Packers can change their reputation of being a soft team against a tough Ravens squad.
"And the Packers have a chance to change all of that in their next three games, starting Monday night in front of a national television audience against the "big, bad" Baltimore Ravens."
Offensive – Rodgers is having the type of year that is making a case for him to be thought of among the league's best quarterbacks. He currently owns the NFL's fourth-most passing yards (3,136), fourth-most touchdowns (22), third-highest passer rating (104.9) and is eighth in completion percentage (65.5 percent). He is obviously the future under center for Green Bay.
Defensive – Woodson is playing lights out in his 12th season. An example of his impact was clearly shown in a Week 10 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, where he became the first player in league history to force two fumbles, nab an interception and record a sack. Woodson has seven interceptions this year and is second on the team with 60 tackles.
TE Jermichael Finley
Even though Lee is the regular starter at tight end, Finley is rounding into a solid player. At 6-foot-5, 247 pounds, Finley has exceptional size and his speed is evidenced by his five catches for 20-plus yards in eight games.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Packers LB Nick BarnettWith the likely poor field conditions, the running game will be critical. Rice has a knack for making people miss, and he will have to break the grasp of Barnett, the Packers' leading tackler (83) often. Coming off an ACL injury, Barnett is returning to the form that made him a perennial Pro Bowl candidate through his career.
Ravens LB Jarret Johnson vs. Packers LT Chad CliftonWhether Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs plays with his knee injury, the Ravens will rely heavily on the pass-rushing talents of Johnson, whose six sacks paces the club. The Packers have had trouble stopping the rush, especially Clifton, who is nursing a hamstring injury.
McCarthy on how much impact CB Charles Woodson has had over the last three games:"He's clearly our most productive, and he's our best player, on defense. He was our defensive MVP last year in a different scheme, and I'm sure he's well on his way to being our defensive MVP this season. We're utilizing his strengths, particularly playing him at different positions, and I just can't say enough about the year he's having."
Rodgers on whether the offensive line has fixed some of its problems from earlier in the season: "I think we're starting to. The three things that I think we've done a little bit better is I've gotten the ball in hand quickly. I think we've done a good job in identifying the stress points in the protections with the plays called and just done a better job at those individual protections, so those individuals match up as well."
Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said it this week: the Ravens have built an all-weather offense. Run the ball with your smash-mouth attack and really commit to it, then when the other team has to bring more people up in the box to stop Ray Rice and Co., that should open up a few shots downfield.
The Steelers felt that toughness when they were pushed around at M&T Bank Stadium by an unbalanced line and the regular use of the jumbo package. The Ravens need to bring that mentality to Lambeau Field.
That goes for the defensive line, as well. Even though injuries decimated the Packers' front wall, no quarterback should have to take the type of punishment Rodgers has.
That's why the Ravens must get some sacks, and at least containment, on Rodgers. He is at his best when he is mobile with the football. Rodgers knows how to get out of trouble and make plays with his legs. The Ravens have to wrap him up early instead of giving him time.
It hasn't happened too often this year, though. Lately, the players say they are getting really close for sacks, but for one reason or another, they aren't getting all the way to the quarterback.
That's simply not going to cut it in a fired up Lambeau. Time to not almost get there. Get there.
The Ravens know there is too much on the line to get caught up in the mystique and history of Lambeau Field. They must win this to keep their playoff hopes alive.