Then on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins’ comeback victory against the New England Patriots turned the heat up even hotter on the Ravens. I have to admit, I was really pulling for Tom Brady to make one of his patented comebacks, but the ‘Fins held strong. Bummer, dude.
Both the Dolphins and Chargers have favorable schedules (Dolphins: at Buffalo, vs. the Jets; Chargers: vs. Oakland, vs. an already-clinched-5th-seed-Chiefs-so-they have-notning-to-play-for), so every game matters for the Ravens. There is little, to no, margin of error.
However, a glimmer of hope shined on the Ravens on Sunday evening. The Cincinnati Bengals proved that they are not ready for primetime, as they were blown out by the reeling Pittsburgh Steelers. What a joke—the Bengals looked dazed and confused on almost every level.
With that egg being laid by the Bengals, the door is ajar for the Ravens to win the division. The last time the Ravens were in a position to capitalize on a Bengals’ gaffe was the week after the bye week when the Ravens traveled to Cleveland and promptly lost, looking lackluster and as though they were sleepwalking in the process.
Tonight’s game was a tough enough game when it was originally announced. But the way the chips of week 15 have fallen, it makes tonight’s game even more difficult.
That being said, this Ravens team compares favorably to the version that lined up against the Browns in week nine. They are riding the current three-game winning streak, embracing the emotional return of Dennis Pitta, and coming off a confidence boosting comeback victory against the Minnesota Vikings. They seem more ready for the challenge that the Lions present.
Here are tonight’s other plotlines. (P.S. Matt Elam’s comments were idiotic and deserve no further discussion.)
Like I said when the Ravens faced Bengals’ wide receiver A.J. Green, you can’t stop him you can only hope to contain him. However, Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL, bar none. He rarely, if ever, disappears in a game. No one can match his size, speed, strength, and experience. He will get his yards tonight, and the yards will have come regardless if Elam had stupidly said what he said or not.
The question is whether or not the Ravens can limit his impact on the game and keep Megatron from taking over the game. The most concerning time that this could occur is when the Ravens’ defense is most vulnerable—in the 4th quarter. Jimmy Smith and the secondary have a tall (figuratively and literally) task in front of them.
Suh & Fairley on the Inside, Ansah & Young on the Outside
This game, like most games, will be decided by the play of the offensive and defensive lines of both teams. The Lions have a beast of a defensive line, which routinely masks the awfulness of its secondary.
The speed of the outside rushers, and the power of the inside rushers will be a formidable task for the struggling offensive line of the Ravens. The interior line (A.Q. Shipley, Gino Gradkowski, and Marshall Yanda) of the Raven has struggled with tackles that possess brute strength. Meanwhile, Michael Oher (and to a lesser extent Eugene Monroe) has struggled with speed rushers.
Well, that is what the Lions are serving tonight—strength up the middle and speed on the outside. For the Ravens to have any sort of chance, the offensive line needs to protect Joe Flacco long enough for him to exploit the weakness of the Lions, its secondary.
Conversely, the recent dormant pass rush of the Ravens needs to return by pressuring Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford into mistakes. A possible-returning Elvis Dumervil would certainly go a long way in helping get the Ravens’ pass rush get untracked.
Strike Early and the Lions May Unravel
One major advantage that the Ravens possess over the Detroit Lions is the fact that the Ravens are used to playing on the big stage. The last time the Lions won a playoff game was when C+C Music Factory was relevant, Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original) was a hit show, and Terminator 2 was released—the 1991 season.
This is a huge asset that should not go overlooked. As the Ravens are trying to make a late-season surge, the Lions are trying to avoid a late-season swoon. They should have put away the competition by winning the NFC North division weeks ago. Instead, they have allowed the back-up quarterback driven Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers back into the divisional race. Both are breathing down the neck of the Lions, and the Lions have to be concerned. Jim Schwartz’s teams have not been known for staying focused and keeping their composure.
The Ravens, on the other hand, have been in this position before. Granted, the roster is different, but Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Pitta, Lardarius Webb, Ray Rice, and Vonta Leach have experienced the pressure-filled games and have come out unscathed on the other side.
If the Ravens can strike early (a big if), the Lions may feel the proverbial screws tighten. They could unravel before our very eyes.
Pitta, Part II
It would be very easy to jump to the conclusion that Pitta is back and everything will now be okay with the Ravens’ offense. However, this has the makings of a sequel letdown.
Flacco cannot force-feed Pitta the ball on every third-down and in every crucial situation. The Ravens need to find ways to stretch the field, and allow Pitta opportunities underneath. Let the game come to Pitta, rather than making him the focal point.
If the Ravens are going to win tonight, Torrey Smith needs to get untracked. Over the last two games, he has three dropped passes—60% of his dropped passes of the season.
With a banged-up secondary for the Lions, Smith and the Ravens need to take advantage. The Lions already rank number two (behind the number one Ravens) in 40-yard receptions, and the Ravens will need to add to that total.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
Daryl Smith is the call tonight. If Reggie Bush does indeed play, I think the athleticism of Smith can help limit Bush’s impact in the passing game—Smith’s strong suit this year.