Though plenty will write off the Baltimore Ravens given their stunning inability to win on the road in 2013, the Detroit Lions will be taking on an opponent who's mantra has long been survive and advance, regardless of environment. As proven by last year's successful playoff run, there's always danger in that.
Now, in spite of road blues, the Ravens have gotten things going, winning their last three home games to remain firmly within the AFC playoff conversation. The champions are scratching and clawing again, setting up a monster game on Monday night against the Lions, who are equally as desperate for wins given their recent trend downward. What helps the Ravens stand out? Quality special teams, among many other variables.
Ravens' Offensive Difference Maker: Jacoby Jones. Given play making ability, Jones could be the best test the Lions see all year on special teams. His skill there has allowed the Ravens to win several close games, and Jones' abilities have delivered plays which help pick up Baltimore's entire offense. Jones is also dangerous as a receiver for Joe Flacco, and his breakaway speed can be game changing with only one pass. Detroit's coverage units will have to tackle as well as they have, and the defensive secondary will need to be extra careful on slant passes with the speedy Jones lurking over the middle of the field.
Ravens' Defensive Difference Maker: Elvis Dumervil. Since coming over in a controversial offseason move from Denver, Dumervil has quietly remained one of the more fearsome pass rushers in football. His 9.5 sacks place him in a tie for eleventh in the NFL. He's also forced two fumbles, and in the Ravens' tough, attacking defense, has been a powerful force along with Terrell Suggs. This has helped Baltimore compensate for the loss of Ray Lewis. The Lions, who have struggled protecting Matthew Stafford in key times against good pass rushers, will have to make sure Dumervil doesn't affect the game in too many big ways.
Ravens' Major Problem: Running game. After getting gashed in the Philadelphia snow, the Lions' beleaguered but still solid run defense should be able to get on track this week (theoretically) taking on the Ravens and their 29th ranked ground game, which has proven one of the worst in the league. Baltimore has only scored six touchdowns on the ground all year, the third lowest total in the league. Worse, they've only rushed for 1,070 total yards. Ray Rice remains a threat, but he hasn't looked nearly as dynamic as in the past, nor has Baltimore's run game, which is usually a hallmark of their tough team.
Ravens' Major Strength: Special teams. In total, the Ravens have excellent fundamentals on special teams to go with the explosion of Jacoby Jones. Baltimore is solid on punt returns, ranking ninth in the league at defending them. Kickoff coverage has been slightly worse, but the Ravens are still a top 20 team with regards to that. Justin Tucker has helped the Ravens convert the second most field goals in the league, while the punting game places a solid fifth overall with 24 punts downed inside the 20 yard line. Baltimore does all the little things extremely well under John Harbaugh, a former special teams coach, which has helped them compensate for plenty of offensive shortcomings in 2013. As many in Detroit know, the same cannot always be said for the Lions.
Intangibles: Championship mindset. As it relates to winning late in the season and coming out ahead in a playoff push, the Ravens have been there and done that as recently as 2012. They know how to win close games in tough environments, so while the noise of Ford Field will be a challenge, don't expect the situation of another desperate, explosive 7-6 team to seem daunting to them. Baltimore knows what it takes to make the playoffs and win a title, and the Lions do not. Though both teams are 7-6, it feels as if the Ravens are the better team, simply because they are peaking instead of leaking down the stretch.
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