The Green Bay Packers travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens in an interconference matchup between potential playoff teams. The Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 45-30 last week to improve to 10-3 on the season. The Packers magic number to clinch the NFC North and a playoff berth is one so a Packers wins or a Minnesota loss will officially clinch a trip to the postseason for the Pack. The Ravens lost to the Cleveland Browns a week ago in Cleveland 24-22 and are now 8-5 on the season.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these infrequent opponents, 4-2-0. This series started in 1998 shortly after the old Cleveland Browns moved the Baltimore to become the Ravens. The two teams have never met in the postseason and can only do so in the Super Bowl. The Ravens won the last meeting between these two teams in 2017, 23-0.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game in Baltimore:
- Don’t Let Lamar Jackson Beat You With His Legs
The Ravens offense is unique in the modern NFL. Baltimore is third in the league in rushing yards gained per game with 144.8 and quarterback Lamar Jackson is the catalyst for the running game. Jackson has 767 yards rushing while their top running back, Devonta Freeman, has 440.
Jackson has an ankle injury and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Head coach John Harbaugh has not ruled Jackson out but even if he plays, his ability to run effectively may be reduced by the injury.
Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is also a running threat and is averaging 5.9-yards per attempt. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the Ravens will have their signal caller running by design more often than any other NFL team.
The Packers may have De’Vondre Campbell spy on the Baltimore quarterback to prevent him from breaking off significant runs. Last week, Chicago’s Justin Fields did rush for 74 yards on nine carries although much of that came in garbage time.
The Packers will be without nose tackle Kenny Clark who is now in the Covid protocol and won’t play on Sunday. This is a significant loss for the Packers against a team that likes to run as often as the Ravens do.
- Contain Mark Andrews
Ravens tight end Mark Andrews leads the team with 75 catches and he has six touchdown passes through 13 games.
Joe Barry has a tough choice to make. He cannot use Campbell to both spy on the quarterback and cover Andrews.
Andrews is 6’5” and his size creates matchup problems for safeties while his speed gives linebackers fits.
While Jackson is an inconsistent passer, Andrews gives him a reliable intermediate target who helps keep the chains moving.
Look for the Packers defense to show a mixture of zone and zone/man coverages to try to keep Andrews and the Ravens quarterbacks off-balance.
- Cut Down on the Big Plays Allowed
Over the last three games, the Packers defense has allowed too many long scoring plays. The Vikings struck deep twice, the Rams and Bears also had big plays that went for touchdowns.
The defense did a good job of preventing splash plays in the first 10 games and they need to get back to forcing teams to score the hard way with long, time consuming and mistake-free drives.
Baltimore receivers Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman are both capable of getting deep while both quarterbacks are threats to run for long gains.
The Packers must return to their past form and keep Baltimore from long scoring plays.
- Pressure the Quarterback
Regardless of who starts, the Ravens offensive line has struggled this year due to injuries and inconsistent play. In 13 games, Baltimore has allowed 47 sacks. That number is bad but it’s even worse when you consider how mobile both Ravens quarterbacks are.
The Packers will clearly miss Clark in this game. He supplies consistent pressure from the interior and Kingsley Keke will have to pick up the slack.
Preston Smith and Rashan Gary should be able to get to the quarterback but the Packers defense must stay disciplined and stay in their lanes to prevent the quarterbacks from scrambling for long gains.
Jackson has already thrown 13 interceptions this season and he can be pressured into mistakes. If the Packers win the turnover battle, they stand a very good chance of winning this game.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers will be without another offensive lineman in Billy Turner who suffered a knee injury last week against the Bears. Matt LaFleur said he was hopeful Turner could return sometime this season but we still don’t know how long he’ll be out of the lineup.
We also don’t know when David Bakhtiari will be back although he did practice Wednesday and Thursday in a limited fashion.
The banged up offensive line needs to give Aaron Rodgers enough time to throw the football and to protect his injured toe. Expect short, quick release passes and a healthy dose of runs and screens to limit the Baltimore pass rush.
If Rodgers has time, Davante Adams should be able to take advantage of a Ravens secondary that is ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed per game.
- Special Teams: Do No Harm
The Ravens have one of the best special teams units in the league, the Packers are close to the worst. Last week, the Packers special teams were a disaster, giving up a long punt return for a touchdown, two kickoffs of 40 or more yards, a kick out of bounds, a kickoff fielded out of bounds and a muffed punt that was nullified by a penalty.
If this game is close, the Packers inconsistent special teams could cost them the win. Maurice Drayton’s units must do the basic things well: no penalties, no muffs or fumbles and no huge mistakes on coverage teams. Anything more than that is a bonus but first, do no harm.
Many considered this the toughest remaining game on the Packers schedule. Running quarterbacks have been a thorn in the Packers side in recent years but the injury to Jackson may reduce that problem.
On the other side, the loss of Clark may hurt the Packers this week as he is the team’s biggest difference maker on the defensive line. The Ravens need to run the football well to win and Clark would help stuff the running game.
Rodgers and Adams should have a huge game if the Packers injured offensive line can give him enough time to throw.
This game will be close, but the Packers know what’s at stake and will get the job done on the road.
Packers 27, Ravens 20
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