When the Ravens clash against the Buccaneers this Sunday, the game should be closer than most think.
Baltimore (3-2) seems to have a better team than Tampa Bay (1-4), but this series has been about as even as any the Ravens have played in. Each of these teams has won twice. Each of these teams has shut the other one out. The combined score in this series: Tampa Bay 57, Baltimore 54.
The Ravens have won the last two meetings, but this game is on the road against somewhat of an unfamiliar opponent.
Here are five things to look for that, if taken care of, could yield Baltimore win No. 4 on the year.
Bobby Rainey’s performance against his first NFL team
Yes, Bobby Rainey did not play in a regular season game for the Ravens in his rookie year, but Baltimore knows plenty about him. He’s currently gaining 4.7 yards per carry and 8.7 yards per reception in his fourth NFL season. He’s received less snaps that Doug Martin, but has been much more productive. If Baltimore can bottle him up and make Tampa Bay one-dimensional, that should all but guarantee them a win. But if the Ravens have a repeat performance of last week when they gave up a season-high 117 net rushing yards, they could easily return home with a 3-3 record.
Jimmy Smith vs. Vincent Jackson
Tampa Bay’s biggest threat to Baltimore’s defense is wide receiver Vincent Jackson (6’5″, 230 pounds). In five of his six previous seasons, he’s gained over 1,000 yards receiving. Although he hasn’t practiced this week due to a rib injury, Jackson should be active on Sunday.
He will likely be defended by Jimmy Smith, who has been the Ravens’ best pass defender thus far. Smith (6’2″, 209 pounds) has the size to defend players like Jackson, but is no longer just made up of potential and the ideal frame. The fourth-year cornerback is on pace to make 67 tackles and 16 passes defensed. He is sorely needed in a secondary that has given up too much to the opposition.
The only time the two played against each other was in 2011 when Jackson played for the Chargers. Jackson caught three passes for 84 yards in that game.
The physicality of the Buccaneers’ safeties
Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson comprise what is arguably the hardest-hitting duo of safeties in the NFL. Their ferocity reminds me of Jack Tatum and Sean Taylor. Even when there’s an opportunity in a play to slow down a bit, they don’t. Sometimes their technique isn’t the best, but if they square you up, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt. Ball security will be a top priority for the Ravens on Sunday. Goldson could be a scratch since he hasn’t practiced through Thursday this week.
Who will replace Asa Jackson and Chris Canty?
Asa Jackson (toe, short-term IR) and Chris Canty (wrist) will miss the Buccaneers game, which is a big hit to both the secondary and the defensive line; units that are already running low on depth. Jackson is eligible to return in Week 14, and John Harbaugh said Canty should be out for “…a couple of weeks.”
Despite losing two starters the Ravens will look to Lardarius Webb and DeAngelo Tyson as the next man up at each position. Webb has plenty of starting experience but has struggled to stay on the field consistently in 2014. Tyson has played plenty of big-time snaps for Baltimore since he was drafted in 2012 (including 38 last week in Indianapolis). Fans don’t need to worry about him. He’ll be fine.
Can Torrey Smith finally break out?
It’s puzzling as to why Torrey Smith hasn’t been more productive this year. He’s not hurt, teams can’t roll coverage toward him anymore, and Baltimore’s offensive line, except for last week, has given Joe Flacco plenty of time to survey defenses.
I don’t know why Smith has struggled but the good news is that the Buccaneers have the 30th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They give up almost 300 yards and two touchdowns every week through the air. If there was a time for Smith to break out of his slump, this is it.
“It’s not that I’m a bad player. Things just haven’t been going my way. And no one controls that but me. I’ll keep on working and things will show.” — Torrey Smith commenting on the start of his 2014 season
Ravens 23, Buccaneers 19