Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears – Week 11 Preview

Week 11 – Balitmore Ravens at Chicago Bears

Part 11 of a 17 part series analyzing each week of the Bears’ season

 

The Chicago Bears are 5-4 and coming off of a tough divisional loss. In a very tough NFC, the Bears need absolutely every win they can get from here on out to have a chance at the playoffs. Their schedule appears to lighten up from here so coming away with a win could help start a playoff run. Backup quarterback Josh McCown will make his second start of the season, and everyone will be watching to see if he can replicate his success. 

On the other side of the field is the Baltimore Ravens, who are 4-5 and trying to rebound from a string of disappointing losses. They have had a number of issues and another win in this game could do wonders for their playoff aspirations. These two teams are in tight divisional races, and both really need as many wins as they can get.

 

Key Matchups

Ravens WR Torrey Smith versus Bears CB Tim Jennings

Amidst all of the Raven’s offensive struggles, Torrey Smith has quietly had a strong season. His 753 yards are 11th most in the league, and his 18.37 yards per reception are among the best. Where he has come up short is in the touchdown department, but a lot of the blame goes to Joe Flacco and the offense, which has only amassed 12 passing touchdowns through 10 games. Smith has been one of the only players that have been able to drive the Ravens’ offense.

With Charles Tillman on injured reserve, Tim Jennings is now the Bears’ top cornerback, and he will likely spend a lot of this game against Torrey Smith. Jennings has been solid this season. He has three interceptions, and he returned two of them back for touchdowns. He also has two forced fumbles, and he has been one of the few consistent and healthy players in the Bears’ defense this season.

The play of Smith will be huge in determining the Ravens’ offensive success. After Smith, the Ravens’ next leading receiver is rookie undrafted free-agent Marlon Brown who has only 307 yards on the season. The 446-yard gap between the two is the third largest gap between a team’s first and second receiver, behind only the Detroit Lions (Calvin Johnson) and the Cincinnati Bengals (A.J. Green). Keeping Smith well covered will further restrict an already struggling Ravens offense. Baltimore needs him to have a good day to keep their offense moving.

 

Ravens OLB Elvis Dumervil versus Bears RT Jordan Mills

One of the biggest free agent signings this offseason was Elvis Dumervil, who found himself without a team after a faxing snafu. While he has not been a full-time starter, he has been extremely effective as a pass-rusher when on the field. He has eight sacks on the season, which is tied for ninth most in the league. Dumervil is the only player in the top 10 that has not been a regular starter this season. He has only played about 50-60 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, but he has definitely been a player that opposing offensive line have to watch out for.

Quite often when Dumervil rushes the passer, he lines up towards the right tackle. It just so happens that the Bears’ right tackle, rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Mills, has been one of their weaker links along the offensive line. He has not been horrible, but the struggles have been there at times, which is expected from someone with such little experience. According to Pro Football Focus, Mills has allowed two sacks, six quarterback hits, and 39 quarterback hurries. Fortunately for him, both Bears quarterbacks have been excellent at escaping the pressure he has allowed.

Mills needs to be serviceable in this game to allow McCown to run the Bears’ offense. Dumervil is going to be chomping at the bit, ready to go after Mills, and the young lineman needs to be ready for it. If he struggles, it could be a long day for McCown and the Bears’ offense, but if he can hold his own, it should really help them move the ball effectively.

 

Ravens CBs Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith versus Bears WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery

Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have had some difficulty staying with quality receivers this season. They have allowed seven receivers to go for more than 70 yards against them, and they allowed both Demarius Thomas and A.J. Green to break 150. Even the struggling Miami Dolphins were able to get both Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson to combine for 179 yards. Their secondary has not been completely porous, but the issues have been prevalent. This game will feature another tough task for these two.

Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have quickly become one of the top, if not the best, wide receiver duos in the league. Both have over 730 receiving yards on the season and they have 11 touchdowns between them, eight of which are credited to Marshall. In fact, these two combine to have more receiving yards than any other pair of teammates in the league, surpassing the Denver Broncos’ Demarius Thomas and Eric Decker by a mere seven yards. Marshall and Jeffery have been dominant this season, and every defense they have faced has struggled to keep them under control.

Only two teams have been able to keep both Marshall and Jeffery under 100 yards, and their impressive play is a huge reason for the team’s offensive efficiency. Keeping them under control will be extremely important for the Ravens. The receivers are what allows McCown to run the Bears’ offense smoothly, so limiting them will force to McCown to make the more difficult throws that he is not accustomed to throwing. That would be huge in tripping-up the Bears’ high-scoring offense.

 

Biggest Questions

Can the Ravens get their running game going against a struggling Bears’ defense?

The Baltimore Ravens are the worst rushing team in the league, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. Their leading rusher, Ray Rice, has only 289 yards on the season, and his shockingly poor performance is a big reason for the team’s offensive issues. He has not rushed for over 75 yards in a game this season, and week five against the Dolphins is the only game this season he has gone over 45. While the number of carries he receives has been down, it does not justify the lack of ability he has shown.

Although, Rice does not deserve all of the blame. The team has also given a large number of carries to Bernard Pierce, and he has not been able to do much better. Where the problems seem to start are along the offensive line. Their run blocking has been awful. The Ravens run the ball up the middle about 63-percent of the time, and on those runs they average only two yards per carry. Where they struggle the most is running towards the right side of the offensive line, where they average a league-worst 1.65 yards per carry.

However, the matchup in this game bodes well for the Ravens. Where the Ravens’ offense has struggled to run, the Bears’ defense has struggled to stop the run. The Bears’ defense has allowed 5.93 yards per carry to runs up the middle, among the worst in the league. This will be a battle between to struggling units, but one of them has to win. Getting their running game back on track would be huge for the Ravens’ offense, opening up the field for Flacco. On the other end, keeping the Ravens’ runners quiet would greatly benefit the Bears’ pass defense. (Data Courtesy of NFL Game Statistics and Information System)

 

Will Josh McCown put together another strong game against a solid defense?

McCown has played extremely well this season in place of the injured Jay Cutler. Between his one start, and parts of two other games, he has accumulated over 500 yards with four touchdowns on a 60-percent completion rate. His 103.2 passer rating is in the top 10, and he has run the Bears’ offense masterfully.

However, the defenses he has faced have not exactly been the most dominant. The Washington Redskins defense he faced first is 31st in the league in points allowed and widely considered one of the worst defenses in the league. Next, McCown got the start in Green Bay, where he faced a decimated Packers‘ defense that was missing a handful of starters in the front seven. Last week against the Lions, McCown played against a stronger defense, but it was still one that has trouble in pass coverage, ranking in the bottom-third of the league in that department.

Facing this Ravens’ defense will be no walk in the park for McCown. While they are not as dominant as they have been in years past, the group is still very good. They do tend to give up a fair amount of yards, but they do not let offense’s finish their drives. They have allowed the eight fewest points this season, and since their opening day thrashing by the Broncos, they have not allowed a team to score more than 24 points in a game. According to TeamRankings.com, the Ravens are second in the league in opponent redzone touchdown percentage at 33-percent.

Additionally, this game is expected to have terrible weather, facing a high chance of rain and winds upwards of 25 miles per hour. McCown’s three games this season have been in relatively normal conditions. Throwing the ball in the wind and rain is much more difficult, and it could be a large hindrance on McCown’s game. How that will affect his game will likely have a large impact on this game.

So, playing a very good defense in stormy weather, will Josh be able to replicate his success? He is a smart quarterback, but does he have the ability to make the big plays through the precipitation and the tight defense? His play is paramount to the Bears’ success and will very likely determine the outcome in this game.

 

Can the Bears’ defensive line get back on track against a struggling Ravens’ offensive line?

In addition to their run blocking issues, the Ravens’ offensive line has been poor in pass-protection as well. They have allowed Flacco to be sacked 30 times already this season, third most in the league. The pressure he faces because of shoddy pass blocking is a big reason for his career low passer rating. He is having to hurry his throws, and as a result, he has thrown 11 interceptions this season. His career high for interceptions in a season is 12. Some of the blame does fall on Flacco, but it is the offensive line that should be held most accountable.

Of course, what gives the offensive line fits is the play of the opposing defensive line, where the Bears have come up short this season. Injuries have been a big factor, as the Bears have had their top three defensive tackles miss two or more games this season. Nevertheless, the rest of the linemen need to step up, and they have not been able to do that much this season. As a defense, the Bears have 14 sacks, tied for second fewest behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defensive line has nine of them. Opposing defenses have had time to throw and open holes to run through.

With the Ravens’ offensive line struggling as much as it has been, this game has the potential to be another bounce-back game for the Bears’ defensive line. They were able to get things going well against the Packers earlier in the season, but they have not gotten much in any other. Another big game in this one would certainly boost their confidence and potentially bode well for future games. It will be interesting to see whose struggling line will win the day.

 

Team Comparison

Offense

Between Flacco’s struggles and McCown’s general quarterbacking situation, comparing the two throwers is difficult. Recent games would suggest that McCown is the better player, but history says otherwise. It appears to be a wash at this point. Runningback is a much easier comparison because of Rice’s noted inability and Matt Forte’s outstanding season. Some of that has to do with their respective offensive lines though.

A similar comparison can be drawn at wide receiver, where the combined excellence of Marshall and Jeffery makes them difficult to surpass. Torrey Smith has been terrific, but the team’s lack of a second receiver makes them come up short here. Dallas Clark has actually been the Ravens’ leading tight end, despite not starting a single game. Ed Dickson, the starter, has only 11 catches all season. The Bears’ Martellus Bennett has more catches, yards, and touchdowns than the two of them combined.

The offensive line difficulties in both run blocking and pass blocking of the Ravens have been well documented, while for the first time in years, the Bears have a quality offensive line. Even after 10 weeks, it is still a strange sight to see for many Bears fans. It is a welcomed one, though, and it has been a big reason for the Bears’ offensive efficiency.

 

Defense

Quite the opposite is the defensive lines. The Bears’ line has only been effective in small spurts, although injuries have had a lot to do with it. The Ravens’ line has been consistent like always, a big reason for their top-five run defense. Like the defensive line, the linebackers of the Bears have also faced tough injuries. They are now starting two rookies along side veteran James Anderson, but they have still played admirably despite their inexperience. Terrell Suggs and the aforementioned Dumervil have been great for the Ravens though, and their corps gets the nod.

The secondary yields another difficult comparison because both teams have had some issues. Both teams have excellent cornerbacks that have been occasionally inconsistent. Where a lot of the problems have come is at the safety position. James Ihedigbo has been solid for the Ravens while Matt Elam has left a lot to be desired. For the Bears, both Major Wright and Chis Conte have been awful and both have faced potential benching. Overall, the Ravens secondary has been the better group.

 

Special Teams

The Bears and Ravens have strikingly similar special teams situations. Their kickers have both been extremely accurate, both with at least a 90-percent field goal percentage. Their punters both have been inconsistent and unreliable. The two team’s return games have gone similarly as well. Devin Hester has had somewhat of a bounce-back season, breaking off long returns and reaching the endzone once on a punt return. Tandon Doss has had the same type of success on punts for the Ravens, while Jacoby Jones has been consistently effective on kickoff returns. Neither special teams group is significantly better the other.

 

Conclusions

The Bears and the Ravens are two teams in similar situations. They are both banged-up teams that have lost a few more games than they probably should have and find themselves facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs. The Ravens are in the weaker conference, but they also have the worse record. Both teams desperately need this game to keep their playoff chances alive. The loser will have an even more difficult journey if they want to play in the postseason.

This game will be a good barometer for both teams because of it. Both have gone through some fluky situations, and this gives them a chance to work on something against a similar team. Between the weather and the recent play of these two teams, it looks to be an ugly game out there. The two teams desperately need this win to jumpstart their playoff runs, and each knows the ramifications of the game. It has the makings of a very intense game

 

 

Game Prediction: Baltimore Ravens 20 – Chicago Bears 27