It wouldn't be unreasonable for you to expect a team coming off a Super Bowl win and a team with Super Bowl expectations to be better than a combined 5-4, but that's where the Baltimore Ravens and the Green Bay Packers will stand when they enter this Sunday's game.
The Ravens, on the one hand, started the season reeling from some major roster turnover, losing, among others, defensive anchors Ray Lewis (to retirement) and Ed Reed (to agency). After getting royally whupped by Peyton Manning on Opening Weekend, they squeaked out a win over Cleveland (way better than we thought), crushed the Texans (as confusing a team as there is), got nipped late by the Bills, then beat the Dolphins late. All that to say through five games, it's difficult to see exactly where the Ravens are as a football team. Improving, it would seem, but it's not clear by how much.
Meanwhile, the Packers find themselves in a similar position. After a disappointing opening weekend loss to the 49ers, they crushed the Redskins, stumbled against the Bengals, and muscled out a more-difficult-than-it-needed-to-be win against the Lions. During that stretch, we've seen the Packers as a passing juggernaut, a power rushing team, an elite run defense unit, and generally completely hapless, sometimes changing between those identities on a quarterly basis. It's safe to say that the Packers, like the Ravens, are still figuring out who they are as a team.
This weekend's game will help both teams see where they stand. The Ravens will have their defense tested by a Packers offense that remains as explosive as ever, while the Ravens will get a chance to flex their offensive muscle against the Packers' often-shaky secondary. Whichever team is able to cover its weaknesses the best will likely come out on top, a week closer to putting the pieces in place as to their season's identity.
5 - Ravens' passing touchdowns so far this year. Joe Flacco's excellent postseason run was supposed to symbolize a shift to the passing game for the Ravens, but Flacco's been wildly inconsistent so far this year. Actually, strike that. He's been generally consistent, but he's been consistently terrible, with passer ratings of less than 90 points in four of his five games this year, and ratings of 73 points or less in three of the five. Still, he's capable of good things, and could be dangerous against a Packers' secondary that's been quite inconsistent itself.
4 - Baltimore pass rushers with at least two sacks this season. Baltimore's defense lives on in a ferocious pass rush that's averaging almost four sacks a game (19 through five contests). The Packers offensive line has been rated quite well so far this year by some advanced metrics, but they'll have their hands full this week against a fully-stocked crew of pass rushing linemen and linebackers.
3 - Sacks by free agent steal Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens' aggressive defense includes former Denver Broncos star Elvis Dumervil, who ended up in Baltimore after a strange series of events that included a missed fax and a lengthy dispute with the front office. Dumervil brings speed and experience to the Ravens, and makes for a good bookend with fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs.
2 - Receptions by Packers running back Eddie Lacy. I thought the Packers would use Lacy more as a receiver, if only to keep the defense honest when he's in the game, but only two passes have come his way so far. One went for 31 yards in Week 1, the second was busted play that went for -2 yards last week. Maybe this is the week Lacy starts to contribute through the air as well as on the ground.
1 - Career multi-sack games by Packers' linebacker Nick Perry. Perry had what could be termed a breakout game last week. Or, if he doesn't produce again, it could be just a flash in the pan game from a guy who has yet to realize his physical skills. Either way, the Packers will be counting on Perry to step up with Clay Matthews sidelined for at least a month.
Last Time - Packers: 27 Ravens: 14 - December 7, 2009
The Packers overcame two Aaron Rodgers interceptions to beat the Ravens by 13 on Monday Night Football, thanks in part to a great performance by Jermichael Finley, who grabbed seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Clay Matthews had two sacks, Nick Collins intercepted a pass, and even Ahman Green got in on the action, rushing for 23 yards on five carries in his late career victory tour in Green Bay.
Meet a Raven - Terrell Suggs - 6'3", 260 lbs. - OLB - 11th NFL Season
As I mentioned in Thursday's podcast, the Ravens have gotten huge contributions so far this year from pass rushing outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who's managed to find his way to the quarterback seven times through five games this year. Suggs is what ever team hopes they get when they draft a pass rushing linebacker, and he's probably similar to what the Packers hope Nick Perry becomes, given that they share similar measurables (both are 6'3, and Perry weights 265 lbs. to Suggs' 260) and tested pretty similarly at the NFL Combine. The main difference (as you'll see Sunday) is Suggs is a lot more flexible and explosive, while Perry still tends to play tentatively at times. Suggs will be dangerous and the Packers have to slow him down.
The Ravens will win if...
...their pass rush does its job and forces Aaron Rodgers to become the version of himself we saw against the Bengals, not the one we saw against the Redskins. Baltimore's pass defense has only been giving up just over 245 yards per game through the air, and the pass rush plays a big role in that number.
The Packers will win if...
...the run game takes some pressure off Rodgers and keeps the Ravens defense on the field for long stretches. I remain convinced that Aaron Rodgers can beat any secondary as long as he's given time, and the easiest way to do that might be to slow down the Raven's pass rush with a strong running game. Eddie Lacy proved he can run tough last week, and the Packers have successfully neutralized strong defensive fronts in each of their last two games. Perhaps that trend continues this week.
The Pick - Packers: 27 Ravens: 21
I think the Packers will help Joe Flacco continue his nightmarish season with a couple interceptions, and the offense will have enough success against the Ravens defense to get the job done. The Packers will be above .500 by Sunday afternoon.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
BEARS over Giants Bengals over BILLS Lions over BROWNS TEXANS over Rams VIKINGS over Panthers CHIEFS over Raiders JETS over Steelers Eagles over BUCCANEERS BRONCOS over Jaguars SEAHAWKS over Titans Saints over PATRIOTS 49ERS over Cardinals COWBOYS over Redskins Colts over CHARGERS
Last week - 8-6 Season total - 38-29
Tweet of the Week
T.J. Lang isn't so sure about airplanes.