3TFO: Ravens @ Bears, Week 11
The Ravens come to Soldier Field this Sunday in a matchup of two teams’ currently one game out of the last wildcard spot in their respective conferences. Both teams are also coming off opposite ends of down-to-the-wire games. The Ravens survived a hail mary at the end of regulation with a field goal on the second position of overtime while the Bears’ failed two point conversion with under a minute left sent them home with a two-point loss.
The story in this one is the quarterbacks. On one side you have $100 million Joe Flacco who has been mired in the worst season of his career. At 4-5 the Ravens are in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in Flacco’s tenure, even with another terrific defense. On the other side you have perennial backup Josh McCown who has set the world on fire in his three games. The Bears’ defense, though, has been torched like no other Bears D has in years, yielding 379.2 yards and 27.4 points per game.
Neither team can afford to fall two games back of a playoff spot and this could easily be described as a must win for both squads. With so much on the line, here is what I’ll be watching for:
A Chance for the Ravens Run Game
Something’s got to give this weekend when our worst-graded run defense faces off against our second-worst rushing attack. The Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards a handoff this season while the Bears allow an average yards per carry over twice that at 4.5. Even with their dismal results, you can’t blame the Ravens for lack of trying. They traded for left tackle Eugene Monroe and in the four games he’s played they’ve been worse, averaging 2.3 yards per run. As a team, the Ravens have a –59.3 run blocking grade and only Marshal Yanda has a positive mark (albeit barely, +0.2). Despite all this they still hand the ball off on 39% of their snaps and routinely hand it off 20+ times a game. There is still an investment in the run, it’s just not paying off.
While the reason for the Ravens’ regression doesn’t have a simple answer, the Bears’ defensive woes do: injuries and safeties. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins are all out for the season while Lance Briggs has been out since Week 7. Over the last three games they’ve allowed 184 yards per game at 5.6 yards per carry while averaging seven missed tackles against the run. There are very few teams that could survive losing four major contributors up the middle and it’s been clear that the Bears aren’t one of those teams. The thing is, though, it hasn’t been the subs that have been liabilities, it’s been the safeties. Major Wright and Chris Conte have the lowest (-11.3) and fourth-lowest (-7.4) run grades, respectively, among safeties. They’ve combined to miss 21 tackles complete just 17 stops. The good news is that Ravens running backs have been some of the worst in the league at avoiding tacklers. Bernard Pierce is 28th while Ray Rice is 48th out of 48 running backs in Elusive Rating.
If backup quarterbacks are supposed to look panicky and flustered when they come in midseason, no one told Josh McCown. Jay Cutler has already been ruled out for this week with an ankle injury and that means that McCown will get his second start of the season. All the veteran quarterback has done is put up an amazing +9.7 grade in 130 snaps and produce a 99.17 PFF QB rating, a number higher than guys like Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. What may be most impressive about McCown’s performance so far, though, is his incredible poise. Whether it was shrugging off a sack and throwing a pinpoint touchdown against Green Bay or leading clutch fourth-quarter touchdown drives against Washington and Detroit, McCown has never looked flustered. He’s been especially good under pressure and he’ll need to be again in this game as Baltimore comes in with our fourth-highest graded pass rush. In 27 pressured drop-backs, the Bears’ replacement QB has a +4.5 grade and is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt. That all being said, this will be — by far — McCown’s toughest test yet. His superb play has come against PFF’s 13th- (Detroit), 26th- (Green Bay), and 31st- (Washington) ranked defenses while Baltimore is currently third.
Elvis Dumervil Vs. Jordan Mills
This matchup could get ugly as our lowest-graded pass blocking tackle meets our highest-graded pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker. Elvis Dumervil is in the midst of his best season since 2009 where he recorded 17 sacks. Well, this year he’s on pace for only 16 but he’s doing it in far fewer snaps. The eighth-year linebacker plays mostly in sub-packages and likely passing situations and when he gets a chance to pin his ears back and attack the quarterback he’s been nearly unstoppable. Dumervil has 39 pressures in 204 pass rushing snaps this season, that’s four more pressures than Terrell Suggs in 74 fewer pass rushing snaps. Dumervil’s 15.4 Pass Rushing Productivity leads all 3-4 outside linebackers this season.
The Bears’ rookie right tackle Jordan Mills is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. His Pass Blocking Efficiency rating is dead last among tackles at 88.7 and he’s allowed 54 pressures in 363 pass blocking snaps. His performance has been eerily reminiscent of former Bears tackle J’Marcus Webb. Both were late round selections out of small schools (Mills from LA Tech and Webb from West Texas A&M) and both were thrust into the starting lineup far before they were ready (Webb was the second-lowest graded tackle his rookie year of 2010). After the first game of the season, Mills has allowed at least four pressures each week with a high mark of 11 against the Packers. He’ll see a large dose of two of the game’s best on Sunday and if he doesn’t get some help it could spell disaster for the Bears.
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