Pour Some Sugar on the Pack
The Packers come into this game without their best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, who is sidelined with a broken thumb. Matthews is a jack-of-all-trades who rushes from the inside or outside, and had to be accounted for on every down. Green Bay will compensate for Matthews’ absence using a rotation of rushers that includes Mike Neal and Nick Perry. The duo may have combined for three sacks against Detroit, but their ability to sustain that productivity is a question mark.
Despite struggling with leaky pass protection, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell should implement an aggressive offensive attack to test the Packers’ ability to rush with just four or five defenders. By spreading out the Green Bay front, the Ravens can neutralize defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ exotic looks and force the Pack to generate a straight man rush without their best defender.
Moreover, Joe Flacco should be given the chance to run the hurry-up attack with frequency to keep the pressure on the Packers’ front. Being at home will enable Flacco to orchestrate the offense without battling the crowd noise at the same time.
Diagnose and Dissect
To have success in the passing game, Flacco will need a clean pocket, and that continues to be a major struggle for the Ravens. Even if Flacco is given the green light to run a more open, fast-paced style of offense—which he thrives in—the team has to find a way to protect him.
First and foremost, the line has to be solid in their blitz pickup recognition against a blitz-heavy Green Bay defense. In addition, Flacco has to have quicker routes to turn to, especially on first down. The ball needs to be out of his hand after one, two, or three steps, and the Ravens have to use more quick outs and bubble screens to spring their receivers loose.
The Packers have struggled to tackle consistently, so the receivers and the backs will have a chance to make plays in space on quick-hitting plays. However, the protection and the route combinations need to be in synch.
Break out the New Toy
In Eugene Monroe, Baltimore has landed a legitimate run-blocking left tackle who can get movement at the point of attack. His debut will be a welcome sight, especially for a running game that has floundered all year.
With Matthews sidelined, this is the perfect opportunity to get Monroe cranking and run the ball behind his side. Moreover, Monroe is also athletic enough to pull and get into space, so screens, sweeps, and counters are fair game. The coaches should throw some bones to their new blindside tackle and see how he responds.
As the season has progressed, the Ravens have used less blitzes and leaned more heavily on their four and five-man rush packages. This group is coming together at the perfect time to face off against one of the game’s purest gunslingers, Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers has ever struggled, it has been against a live front four as opposed to a defense that consistently brings six defenders or more.
What makes the Baltimore rush so dynamic is the different combination of players they use, and the launch points in which they arrive at the quarterback. For instance, last Sunday against Miami, Terrell Suggs rushed from both outside positions, and also came inside on stunt rushes. Hybrid end Pernell McPhee also rushed inside, as did linebacker Courtney Upshaw.
The rushers will have to disguise their rush stances against Rodgers and come from different angles. By using a variation of stunts and twists to interchange their inside and outside rushers, the Ravens will be able to create mismatches and challenge a Green Bay line that has struggled to block the TE (tackle/end) stunt.
Keep your Eyes on your Man
With makes Rodgers so special is his ability to make plays inside and outside of the pocket. He is equally dangerous throwing on the run because he the uncanny ability to maintain his throwing mechanics and has the arm strength to fire a strike without setting his feet.
When Rodgers darts out of the pocket, the Green Bay receivers go on a scramble drill and find a way to get open for him downfield. If the defense fails to adjust, Rodgers’ improvisation can lead to chunk plays for his offense.
The Baltimore secondary struggled to stay with their receivers when Ryan Tannehill scrambled last week. They focused too much on Tannehill and lost track of their coverage responsibilities.
They cannot afford the same missteps against Rodgers. If he finds an opening, he’ll look for the big play and make sure the defensive backs pay.
Sweat the Technique
The Baltimore defensive backs displayed sloppy technique in key spots against Miami, and one has to believe that the Green Bay coaches noticed it when they studied the game tape. In particular, cornerback Jimmy Smith was exposed on a back-shoulder touchdown pass, and that play is a staple in the Packers’ aerial arsenal.
The Baltimore defensive backs have to be aware of the back-shoulder fades and stop routes that Green Bay receivers run to create space along the sidelines. Specifically, receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones are specialists on those plays, and they are especially deadly in the red zone.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Randall Cobb versus Lardarius Webb
One could pick any of the Packers receivers to spotlight and come away with juicy eye candy to feast on during the game. They are all dynamic in their own ways, but Cobb is arguably the straw that stirs the drink. He moves all over the field, lining up in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide. Webb had perhaps his best game in chasing Mike Wallace all over the field last Sunday, so he is primed for the challenge against Cobb. He will need to play physical and use his long wingspan to shrink Cobb’s catch radius.