Baltimore used to be known for their ground-and-pound offense that complimented their ferocious defense. While the D has reloaded, the offense cannot sustain blocks long enough to allow Flacco to go deep nor can Rice find any semblance of a running lane. The Ravens have an atrocious (-59.3) run block grade, second worst in the league. Couple the poor blocking with Rice’s untimely demise, and the black birds average 2.8 yards per carry. Not all has been bad for the Ravens offense, however. Third year wideout Torrey Smith has transformed himself from strictly a vertical threat to a dynamic route runner, thus commanding more attention from opposing defenses. Flacco has targeted Smith on throws over 20 yards a league-leading 28 times. In fact, Smith has the highest deep route target rate (35.8%) in the league as well. When given enough time, Flacco will often look to a streaking Smith in order to take the top off opposing defenses. This, unfortunately, poses a significant problem for the Bears as Charles Tillman has been placed on Injured Reserve and Major Wright and Chris Conte consistently play out of position. Compound these facts with the Bears inability to create any pressure up front, and, on paper, it looks like Flacco should be able hit a few homeruns on Sunday.
The aforementioned Ravens defense has actually improved in the post-Ed Reed/Ray Lewis era. An overall (67.8) defensive grade ranks behind just Kansas City and Seattle. In 2012, the Ravens owned the 22nd ranked defense, boasting a (-15.2) overall mark. The addition of rush backer Elvis Dumervil has revitalized the defense as well as Terrell Sugg’s career. Dumervile (19.1) ranks second among 3-4 rushers and Suggs ranks seventh at (11.7). In fact, 10 of 11 defensive starters own positive grades from Pro Football Focus. The only other defense with such accolades remains Kansas City. Baltimore’s defense remains one of the best in the league because they possess playmakers at every level. Haloti Ngata (4.8) anchors the defensive line and will pose a significant threat to the Bears’ interior. Inside backer Daryl Smith has played outstanding football since coming in as a free agent, posting a (4.2) overall grade. On the backend, James Ihedigbo (5.7) has stepped in admirably for Ed Reed, who was recently signed by the Jets (sorry Bears fans). If the Ravens have a weakness, it could be rookie safety Matt Elam, a first round pick from the University of Florida. Elam has a (-3.7) pass coverage grade, which is still markedly better than Major Wright’s (-11.3) grade.
Since 2011, the Ravens have been prone to streaky play, both of the winning and losing variety. Thus, predicting which Raven squad shows up proves difficult. If the Bears can manufacture even just a nominal pass rush, they should handle Baltimore with relative ease. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker must preach the importance of not allowing Smith to accelerate past the safeties, since neither Wright nor Conte possess recovery skills. Marc Trestman’s creativity on offense should keep the Ravens defense off-balance, which should result in at least three touchdowns. As always, though, the game will come down to field position and, indirectly, the special teams play.