Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field:
Good Things Happen When You Win a Setup Game
This was a setup game, really THE setup game – one the Ravens badly needed to set up the rest of their season and give them a real shot in the AFC wild-card race. It didn't matter how they got what they needed, just that they did. They got it with authority, mostly by taking full advantage of the fact that the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers. Backup quarterbacks have beaten Baltimore a couple of times this year, but that was earlier, while the defense was dealing with several injuries and sorting out some kinks. The unit is healthy now, rounding into form and quite a sight to behold. Yes, that was a backup, Brett Hundley playing for Green Bay. But the Ravens defense hounded, pounded and fooled him all day in what amounted to a triumph by knockout. The stakes were high; a loss would have been devastating. But good things happen when you win a setup game. With four of their remaining six contests at M&T Bank Stadium and a strong, opportunistic defense beginning to exert itself, the Ravens have a real chance to turn around what had been a disappointing season until now. "The season is just beginning," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after this win. A 5-5 team can't ask for anything more.
Ravens Corners Are Strength of Team and Key to Playoff Push
Seldom has it been clearer what the true, bedrock strength of this year's team is, namely, the play of the cornerbacks. The Packers ended up not scoring all day, but they were on the verge on their first drive, in the first minutes, when Jimmy Smith made a brilliant play, coming off his man to intercept a pass in the end zone. The Packers didn't come close to scoring the rest of the day as Hundley quickly gave up on throwing at Smith, who is surely headed to the Pro Bowl at this rate. But the corners on the other side and the slot also were all over their receivers all day, forcing Hundley to scramble as the Ravens pass rush pressured him and ultimately sacked him six times. Green Bay simply wasn't going to win, primarily because the Ravens cornerbacks had things so locked down. "I thought we covered them really well," Harbaugh said. You can be sure his team will be in every game going forward if Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey continue playing this well.
Loss of Ronnie Stanley Hurt, But Offense Took Step in Right Direction
The Ravens didn't put on a lights-out offensive show, but they weren't going to put on a lights-out offensive show once tackle Ronnie Stanley was scratched with a concussion. With their top offensive lineman sidelined, their starting five up front consisted of tackles James Hurst and Austin Howard, guards Luke Bowanko and Matt Skura and center Ryan Jensen – not exactly how the Ravens drew it up originally. The makeshift caliber of the line was an issue against Green Bay's active defensive front. Joe Flacco was under pressure on many dropbacks. That led to some rough patches and the offense managed just two field goals on five trips into Green Bay territory in the first half. But Flacco and his unit persevered, and in the end, there was palpable progress for an offense under scrutiny. The downfield passing game looked better with Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin getting open and combining for eight catches and 90 receiving yards. Flacco was on target and on point, calm under duress. Alex Collins had few holes to run through, but he finished strong. Wallace made a sensational, one-handed touchdown catch. Bottom line, it was a step in the right direction.
'Generation Next' Defenders Stood Out in Dominant Performance
Harbaugh told reporters after the game that the Ravens wanted to get as much speed as possible onto the field on defense to match the speed of the Packers offense. The strategy certainly worked, and in the process, a slew of young defenders staged what amounted to a coming-out party. You could almost see the evolutionary wheel spinning for the Ravens on that side of the ball as Matthew Judon and Willie Henry, a pair of second-year players, and several others made play after play. Judon was a monster with six solo tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hits. Henry, whose mobility seemed to shock the Packers, also had two sacks and five tackles. Other Generation Next defenders who made plays included Humphrey, Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce, Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, all rookies or second-year guys. "We have a lot of good, young players," Harbaugh said. The Packers won't argue.
I'm sure the Ravens made Breshad Perriman a healthy scratch for the first time in his career in hopes of shocking him into performing better going forward, but there also were tangible reasons for the move. The other receivers who got to play, Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, made big contributions on special teams, where Perriman doesn't play … I'm pretty sure the replay judges in New York got it wrong when the Ravens challenged whether a Sam Koch punt had rolled into the end zone or stopped inside the 1-yard line. The officials ruled a touchback on the grounds that the Ravens touched the ball on the goal line, but replays indicated that the ball stopped on its own at the 1, without being touched … That play aside, a huge part of the game was the fact that the Ravens won the field-position battle all day with turnovers and strong special-teams play. The Packers, it seemed, were always backed up.
Check out all the best photos from Lambeau Field as the Ravens battle the Packers.