These aren’t your father’s Chicago Bears, or Dick Butkus’ Monsters of the Midway or anything close to resembling the 1985 edition. Heck, they’re not even like the defense that used to have middle linebacker Brian Urlacher knocking heads out there. These Bears allow 127.9 rushing yards per contest. The Ravens have three physical runners in Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. This matchup could be tailored perfectly for a Ravens team that rushed for over 300 yards during last week’s 48-3 win over the Detroit Lions. The Bears rank 24th in rushing defense in the league. Since 2007, the Ravens have averaged 158 rushing yards in December to top the NFL during that time span. With Urlacher out for the season, the Ravens should be able to pound the Bears up the middle. The Bears gave up a 62-yard run to Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant on the first play last week.
2. Will the Ravens be able to generate a pass rush?
The Ravens haven’t gotten a lot of pressure this season and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs isn’t 100 percent as he works his way back from a sprained knee. Suggs played sparingly against the Lions, but appears to be in better shape and could start rounding into form as the Ravens make a push for the playoffs. The Bears’ offensive line is suspect.
3. Are the Ravens ready for the Bears’ return game?
This game features a battle between Bears special-teams coordinator Dave Toub and Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Toub’s mentor when both men worked for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens have one of the top special-teams units in terms of punt and kickoff coverage, and the Bears feature speed with rookie Johnny Knox and Devin Hester in the return game. The Bears have also dropped to 21st in kickoff returns and 18th in punt returns in the NFL.
4. Will the Ravens be able to protect Joe Flacco?
Flacco is dealing with a sore right ankle, shoulder, knee and hip. He appeared to be more mobile a week ago than the previous two games. He’s been having some issues stepping into his throws and planting his foot. He needs more time to get comfortable in the pocket.
5. Will the Ravens focus and win two in a row?
The Ravens haven’t won two games in a row since September, following a win with a loss every time. They can’t afford to lose any more games obviously to remain in the playoff hunt. They’ll also need to hold onto the ball. The Bears have 195 takeaways since 2004 to lead the NFL, and cornerback Charles Tillman has forced six fumbles this season, so ball security is a big issue. The Ravens need this game badly and seem focused on the task at hand.
Opportunity knocks for the Ravens’ secondary, which has intercepted four passes over the past two games. Cutler leads the NFL with 22 interceptions. Cutler has a tendency to take risks constantly. He forces throws because of his superior arm strength. And he doesn’t seem to be inclined to change his ways. That stubbornness could play in the Ravens’ favor. Playing with sounder technique with less freelancing than they exhibited earlier this season, the defensive backs are taking fewer chances and making more plays. When they play as they’re coached and avoid pass interference penalties, this is a solid secondary overall. They can prove that again today against an error-prone quarterback. Cutler just keeps throwing interceptions with no signs of stopping.
Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice v.Chicago Bears LB Lance Briggs
Rice has emerged as one of the NFL’s top young stars and is coming off a career-high 166 rushing performance. The all-purpose runner eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week and is also the Ravens’ leading receiver with 68 receptions. A threat out of the backfield and running between the tackles, Rice is a deceptively strong runner. His moves in the open field have eluded some of the best linebackers in the league this season. Briggs is another tough customer. He’s strong, fast and a sound tackler. Briggs is capable of shadowing Rice because of his mobility and instincts. However, this could be a tough matchup for him. Rice is a supreme challenge for every NFL linebacker at this point. Rice has a way of picking up yardage in big chunks these days.
1. On the running game: “When you get those long runs, that’s huge for your offense. It gets you going. Usually, when we have our running game going, we’re wearing you down, wearing you down, wearing you down. From the very beginning, we were just popping long ones and that was kind of exciting to see.”
2. On rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher: “Mike’s done a great job all year. For him to come in and do what he’s done has been huge for us. For Oniel Cousins to come in and play the way he did was huge. We’ve done that over the last couple of years. When we’ve had somebody go down, we’ve had somebody else step in and do a great job for them.”
3. On his chemistry with running back Ray Rice: “He’s getting better and better each day. He’s going to continue to get better. I saw it last summer, and last year you saw it. You knew Ray was going to be good. It was just a matter of getting him in the offense and getting him comfortable with what we’re doing and making sure he’s going out there and playing confidently.
“And the better he does each week, the more confident he gets, and he does things with more sureness. He runs routes better and better each week, and he’s hitting the holes and trusting his offensive line better and better each week. Like I said, the more confidence he plays with out there, the better he’s going to get, and we expect that to continue to happen.”
1.On the Ravens’ secondary: “I mean, Domonique Foxworth, he was with me out in Denver, so I’m familiar with him. Ed Reed is one of the best in the game, and the other two guys are good, solid players. You know, any time you’ve got a guy like Ed Reed back there roaming around, they’re going to be tough to deal with, just in identifying where they’re at.”
2. On his interceptions: “It’s a lot of issues. Anytime you’re throwing the amount of picks that I’m throwing, something’s not going right. It’s something we’ve been working on, something we’ve been talking about. But when you boil it down, you just need to take care of the ball better.”
3. On the Bears’ bad season: “I don’t know. End of the season, I’ll have to go back and look at all the games, and really study it, and see what kind of the demise was. We started off 3-1, and felt pretty good, then we went on a tough stretch and gave some games away and got beat soundly a couple of times.
“I can only speak offensively. Offensively, we’re just not executing. We’re turning the ball over a lot. We’ve got a lot of penalties. So, it’s not that defenses are doing anything to really dictate it, we’re just kind of hurting ourselves a lot.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.