3TFO: Packers @ Ravens, Week 6
After some much-needed time to rest, the Green Bay Packers came out of their bye week with a win over the division-leading Detroit Lions. The Packers’ offense moved the ball well until it reached the Lions’ half of the field and had to settle for five field goals by Mason Crosby. The Packers allowed just 9 points on defense but the Lions were without their best receiver, Calvin Johnson. It wasn’t all good news for the Packers as injuries continue to accumulate.
The Baltimore Ravens bounced back after a rough loss in Week 4 to hand the Miami Dolphins their second straight defeat. Defensively, they shut down the Dolphins’ run game to the point where Miami abandoned it altogether. They were also able to put pressure on Ryan Tannehill when they needed it most. Offensively, they improved from their first four weeks, but the run game still is not what it once was and Joe Flacco is in dire need of weapons in the passing game.
This matchup between two recent Super Bowl winners will feature two of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league as each team tries to move up in their division standings. Here are three key areas to focus on.
Nick Perry and Mike Neal vs. Ravens Tackles
Injuries took a toll on the Packers’ linebacker unit last Sunday. Backup Robert Francois is out for the season, Clay Matthews is out at least a of couple weeks, and Brad Jones has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game. Matthews is most known for his pass rushing ability, but his presence defending the run has been just as important this year. Despite missing nearly a full game by leaving the last two early, his eight run stops are second on the team and attribute to his fourth-best 11.6 Run Stop Percentage among all outside linebackers.
Mike Neal, the defensive lineman-turned-outside linebacker, will have an expanded role in Matthews’ absence. Neal was unproductive rushing the passer the first three weeks of the season, creating just five pressures on 64 pass rushes. Fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry was just as unsuccessful at pressuring the quarterback with four pressures on 79 pass rushes through Week 3. Last week, however, they each had one of the best games of their short careers. Neal tallied one sack and five hurries on 26 pass rushes and added two run stops, while Perry sacked Matthew Stafford twice and hurried him on three other occasions. Regardless of their improved performance, Neal’s 9.4 and Perry’s 7.0 Pass Rushing Productivities are still in the bottom third for 3-4 outside linebackers. The duo needs to build on this success, and they have a good opportunity going up against a weak Baltimore offensive line.
The Ravens’ offensive line play has been dreadful throughout the year, earning our worst offensive line ranking for the first five weeks. Marshal Yanda has been the lone bright spot along the line, but even he is not performing as well as in the past. Right tackle Michael Oher has been sufficient pass blocking, but ranks 68th out of 71 tackles in run blocking performance. On the other end of the line, Bryant McKinnie has been so abysmal that the Ravens traded for Jaguars’ starting left tackle Eugene Monroe midseason. McKinnie is allowing an average of four pressures per game and his 93.0 Pass Blocking Efficiency ranks 49th among tackles. His real weakness though is his performance in the run game, in which he ranks second-to-last. If Monroe is ready to play on Sunday, he would be a significant upgrade over McKinnie. With the Ravens not having to block Matthews, they will have a chance to progress against the Packers’ largely unproven linebacker group.
Packers Newfound Running Game vs. Ravens Run Defense
As usual, the Packers have had numerous injuries in the backfield as well, but they have been able to plug in just about anyone and have a successful running attack this year. After their much-discussed 44-game streak without a 100-yard rusher, Eddie Lacy came 1 yard short of the Packers’ third straight game with one. The most surprising aspect is that it would have been accomplished with three different players: Lacy, James Starks, and Johnathan Franklin. The trio is averaging over 5 yards per carry and 2.67 yards after contact, while forcing 16 missed tackles. The biggest factor in the Packers’ improvement has been the ability to run the ball when spreading the field. With three or more receivers on the field (which they have done for a league-high 90.3% of their snaps), the Packers are averaging an astounding 6.1 yards per carry. In more standard run sets, they average just 2.9 YPC (excluding kneeldowns). All that said, with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback there is no doubt this is a pass-first offense and will continue to be such. However, Green Bay’s success will soon force opposing defenses to choose between stopping the run, and continuing to drop in coverage while trying to slow down the running attack.
Not many defensive units will be better suited to slow the Packers’ run game than the Ravens’ fifth-ranked run defense that has playmakers on every level. Haloti Ngata is one of the best interior run defenders in the league. He has eight run stops already this season and when he’s not making plays himself, he’s helping others by fighting a double team. Similar to Matthews, Terrell Suggs is exceptional at pressuring the quarterback but underrated as a run defender. His 14.7 Run Stop Percentage is the highest among 3-4 linebackers and he has missed just one tackle in five games. In the secondary, James Ihedigbo has played exceptionally well and is one of our highest-graded safeties against the run (+4.0). Overall, the Ravens’ are allowing 3.3 yards per carry and one touchdown. They have missed just 13 tackles against the run with a 16-yard run as the longest allowed. When facing 11-personnel, the Ravens still hold up, allowing only 3.1 yards per carry. Their run defense is the biggest team strength, but do they want to make Rodgers drop back even more?
Aaron It Out
Although Aaron Rodgers has not been quite as efficient and mistake-free as we are accustomed to seeing, he continues to be elite when it comes to long passes downfield. Rodgers leads the league in completions (14), yards (505), and Accuracy Percentage (60.9%) on Deep Passing — passes targeted 20-plus yards downfield. Jordy Nelson continues to be his favorite target downfield; completing seven of eight passes including a couple of impressive catches on back-shoulder throws along the sidelines. On all targets 10-plus yards downfield, Rodgers has completed 60% of his throws, including six touchdowns and one interception for a 134.5 QB Rating.
For Baltimore, deep passing has been the secondary’s weakness. Although they have held opponents to a 45% completion rate on Deep Passes, opposing quarterbacks have had a 112.7 QB rating against the Ravens while throwing for four touchdowns. Each of their defensive backs have had breakdowns is coverage, but Corey Graham seems to be the biggest offender. Graham has given up four touchdowns on the year, two of which were targeted past 20 yards. He has another challenge in front of him as he will be tasked with covering Randall Cobb in the slot.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @PFF_MattC