The Green Bay Packers will hit the road again and head to Baltimore to face the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens. The Packers have yet to have back-to-back home or road games this season and they will alternate home and road games until early November.
Winning on the road in the NFL is never easy, regardless of the opponent and the Packers have shown a tendency to win the hard way when away from Lambeau Field.
The Ravens entered this season having lost some of their salty veterans, but were still favorites to compete in the AFC in 2013. The Packers were also among the NFC favorites and are looking to take another step towards solidifying that notion with a big road win.
While it has been close to eight years since Green Bay visited Baltimore, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was there. It was his rookie season and he saw some playing time that Monday night. Unfortunately that was because the Ravens were pounding the Packers and then-quarterback Brett Favre. Rodgers was sacked three times and had an interception in relief of Favre. On ESPN’s “Tuesdays with Aaron” show this week, Rodgers recounted that game, showcasing more of his innate memory skills.
While Baltimore has had their share of struggles with a shaky offensive line and a lack of playmakers in the passing game, they are still the defending champions and they have not lost at home yet this season. If the Packers are going to emerge victorious, they will need a top-flight performance all around and mistake-free football to get it done.
Let’s look at this week’s keys to the game.
On defense, the Packers will be without linebacker Clay Matthews and they will need to find a way to keep pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco has been sacked 14 times already this season and the Baltimore offensive line has struggled overall. Last week, the Ravens traded for Jacksonville Jaguars starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to help solidify the line, and Monroe is expected to make his debut on Sunday against Green Bay.
Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Packers were able to keep pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford with outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal. Both are expected to start on Sunday and an equally productive performance will be needed this week. Green Bay could be very thin on the outside, as rookie Andy Mulumba is nursing a knee injury and has not practiced this week.
If Mulumba is unavailable, we could see a bit of rookie Nate Palmer. Palmer has played only one snap on special teams all season and it looks like his work load could increase, depending on how defensive coordinator Dom Capers plans to use his personnel this week. As has been the case this season and in recent seasons past, Green Bay will have to rely on who they have in uniform on Sunday. Next man up.
Keeping pressure on any quarterback is key, but against a solid passer in Flacco, the Packers can create some good opportunities to force mistakes and take the ball away. Flacco has thrown eight interceptions in Baltimore’s first five games after throwing just 10 all of last year. Granted, five of those picks came in one game, against the Buffalo Bills. Make life difficult for Flacco, and the Ravens are forced to keep gambling through the air or try to run on Green Bay’s stout run defense. On the other hand, a lack of pressure will allow Flacco to be just effective enough to keep Baltimore moving downfield. The Packers have to strike at this soft spot in the Ravens offense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers offensive line will again draw a tough card. After facing some of the league’s best defensive lines in that of San Francisco, Cincinnati and Detroit, they move on to the Ravens’ 3-4, which features Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata and ends Chris Canty and Arthur Jones. Each has at least one sack this season and are very difficult to move around. Ngata returned to practice on Friday after missing the previous two days with a hip injury.
Helping to free up the Baltimore defensive line are outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Green Bay’s young offensive tackles Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari are being well-initiated into the NFL so far this season, and the Packers have to hope that they can withstand it and see it pay off later in the schedule. With five linemen and three or four legitimate threats to get to Rodgers on each snap, the Packers will have to summon help in pass protection. Running back Eddie Lacy and fullback John Kuhn will see their share of pass protection calls. Tight end Ryan Taylor may also see some time in the backfield.
However Green Bay manages it, they have to keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet. In turn, expect to see more of the short passes that were used against the Bengals. With a talented core of receivers, Rodgers has to get the ball into the hands of those playmakers and hope they can make a few guys miss while picking up additional yardage. Rodgers is still holding onto the ball too long in spots and he won’t get away with that this week. That internal clock needs to tick loudly and get his feet moving to escape pressure and get rid of the ball. This all before losing gobs of yardage or worse, taking a big sack.
Run Just Enough
Baltimore has been almost as stout against the run as has been Green Bay. The Packers rank fifth overall while Baltimore sits at sixth. It’s asking a lot for the Packers offensive line to open any significant running lanes for running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, but Green Bay will try to run the ball. They have to in order to set the tone and keep the Ravens defense somewhat guessing.
A lack of success or abandonment of the run would likely mean added pressure on Rodgers and that has been a big problem for the Packers this season. I wouldn’t expect another 100-yard day from either of the Packers backs, but any consistency in setting up manageable down and distance on second and third down would be a huge plus.
Duh! This applies to every game. In order to get a big win, a team needs big plays. There are few bigger than back-breaking turnovers. Last week, the Packers had none in their win against the Lions. In order to get the win this week, it’s going to take at least one takeaway. The most likely source would be an errant Flacco pass or a well-played ball by the Packers defensive backs.
Even more important than creating turnovers is turning those possessions into points. And preferably of the six point variety more than the three or zero. The Ravens need this win as well and their fans will be out in full force, as opposing stadium crowds tend to be when the Packers come to town. Keeping the momentum and giving the home fans little to cheer about will make life a lot easier on Green Bay. While that is not always a necessity to get a road win, I see it as a “must” in this game and for the Packers. They can ill-afford to squander any opportunities handed to them at a tough road venue and against an unfamiliar opponent. That didn’t work too well for
Against a loud crowd and a potent pass rush, the Packers cannot afford to get backed up or have their own end zone in their shadow. The kick return game has been a merry-go-round this season with the team letting go of Jeremy Ross after week three and inserting Randall Cobb and Franklin in that role. Neither have produced much and this has been an area that Green Bay has lacked in for the past few seasons.
Starting at their own 20-yard line would actually be a good thing this week, compared to a failed attempt to bring the ball out on a return and getting plowed at the 10. While Cobb possesses the athleticism to break a big return, the return team does not possess the ability to create a lane. If the ball sails into the end zone, the returners need to take a knee this week.
Punt return is much of the same. Whether it’s Micah Hyde or Cobb, they need to be uber aware of where they are on the field. Securing the ball needs to be a top priority as well as running north and south. Every yard matters. The old rule about standing on the 10-yard line and letting it go if it sails over your head should apply this week. If Baltimore’s coverage is good enough to down it inside of that space, so be it. Good for them. But the Packers need to be smart in this area.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: