After a head-scratching, breathtaking win against the Bengals, the Ravens and their season have new-found energy and purpose.
When the Ravens travel to Chicago on Saturday to take on the Bears on Sunday, they’ll have finished their preparation for an elite Bears offense. The Bears score almost 29 points per game (3rd), but the Ravens defense is equally proficient, allowing just 21 points per game (8th).
The last time these two teams met, it was a one-sided affair to say the least. In Week of 15 the 2009 season, the Ravens were not gracious hosts to the Bears. Baltimore dismantled Chicago to the tune of a 24-point victory (31-7) and six forced turnovers.
In that game, quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte combined for 186 total yards.
Since then the Bears have added one of the very best receivers in football: Brandon Marshall. However, Cutler is out of Sunday’s game with a sprained left ankle.
These two teams haven’t played often, but when they have played it’s been close. The teams have split the four games and the all-time score is Baltimore 57, Chicago 47.
As for this game, it should be similarly close. The sharps in Vegas favor the Bears by the customary home team advantage of three points. Between the weather (90% chance of rain, 17 mph winds), Baltimore’s offense and Chicago’s defense, it could be a messy game.
But then again, those elements could turn this into a classic, old school matchup—one the Ravens are certainly capable of winning.
Here’s how they can keep winning and beat Chicago.
1. Funnel Forte to the middle
Among backs that have at least 125 rushing attempts, Matt Fore ranks 6th with an average gain of 4.4 yards per carry. He’s tied for 3rd in rushing touchdowns (7, Frank Gore) and is tied for 1st with three runs of 40 yards or more (Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller).
If the Ravens don’t “stay home,” set the edge and contain Forte, I foresee a repeat of the Kansas City and Dallas games last year when the Ravens were out-rushed by a combined margin of 441-219 (in successive weeks).
2. Double-team Brandon Marshall
He’s a leaner version of Calvin Johnson and is, in my opinion, a better route runner. Marshall’s 6’5”, 230-pound frame allows him to go up against (and have an advantage over) just about every defensive back in football.
What’s impressive is that he spends a lot of time in the slot, but wherever he plays he dominates consistently. Since joining the Bears last year, Marshall is averaging seven receptions for 92 yards and almost one touchdown per game.
It might not be the worst idea for the Ravens to defend Marshall the way teams have played Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez this year, using a bracket or a vice coverage.
3. Chip on Julius Peppers
Peppers only has two sacks through nine games this year, however he’s fourth on the active list and 18th all-time with 113.5 career sacks.
You never leave that caliber of player unblocked, ever. It would be wise for the Ravens running backs or h-backs (back/tight-end in motion, pre-snap) to chip on Peppers before going out into their routes.
A few years ago, Peppers was the defensive equivalent to Michael Vick. Though not in his prime anymore, Peppers can still wreck an offensive game plan.
Don’t give him the chance.
4. Run pick routes against Tim Jennings
It’s not easy to win against a player who led the league with nine interceptions last year. Jennings did that and had 30 passes defensed.
This year Jennings is having another strong campaign (33 tackles, eight passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, two touchdowns).
The way to beat someone so quick and instinctive is to run what are called “pick” or “rub” routes. One receiver goes one way, the other receiver goes another.
This way you can use a receiver’s “unintentional” screen of the defensive back to let the other receiver run open.
5. Do not kick to Devin Hester
I really shouldn’t have to tell you why you don’t ever, ever kick to Devin Hester. So instead, I’ll show you Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return TD to begin Super Bowl XLI.
He is the best returner in football history.