The Baltimore Ravens have somewhat successfully survived the season of change which always inevitably follows a Super Bowl victory. They're 7-6, and after a rough start to the season, have strung together three straight victories to remain in the conversation to defend their title in the playoffs.
In spite of that, the Ravens are also a woeful 1-5 on the road in 2013, and have seen big plays dissipate from an offense which periodically fails to move the ball and score touchdowns. The defense remains as solid and fearsome ever, though. How has that happened despite the loss of Ray Lewis? What offensive impact players might the Detroit Lions be stung by on Monday night? Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun joins Lions 101 to break down the Ravens.
(1) Lions 101: The Ravens' defense has lost plenty since winning the Super Bowl last year, but have remained a top ten defense in total during 2013. What's helped them keep the continuity in a year of change?
MV: Lost in the fact that the Ravens won the Super Bowl was that their defense was not very good for much of last season. They allowed a lot of yards and points, their saving grace being red-zone defense. With Ray Lewis retiring and Ed Reed hitting free agency, the Ravens saw an opportunity to overhaul their defense. They started 2013 with a new starter at defensive end and cornerback, both safety spots and three of the four linebacker spots. The biggest key was getting Terrell Suggs back to full strength — he is the face of this defense now — and teaming him with Elvis Dumervil, the team’s big offseason addition. They have helped the Ravens generate pressure with a four-man rush. They are in the top 10 in many major categories, but those stats hide the fact that this defense lacks a killer instinct and has allowed teams to make plays late in games, as we saw last week when they let the Vikings score two touchdowns in the final two minutes, only to have the offense and special teams bail them out.
(2) Lions 101: Offensively, despite plenty of problems, Jacoby Jones, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and Joe Flacco still pose a major threat for Baltimore. Which of the aforementioned weapons do you believe will play the biggest role against the Detroit Lions on Monday?
MV: It should be Torrey Smith, but I also thought the same thing heading into the Vikings game and Smith had just one catch. Still, this is an offense built on producing big chunk plays, many of them coming from the right arm of Joe Flacco, and Smith is the most explosive playmaker on the roster. He continues to develop in his third season and is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards. The single-season team receiving record is also in reach. Smith did not deliver against the Vikings, but he would probably have scored a long touchdown had he not gotten tangled up with a defender while tracking a deep ball. The Ravens will take a few shots down the field to Smith and Jones, and if they can connect on a couple of them, that would be huge for the offense obviously. Also, don’t sleep on tight end Dennis Pitta, who made his season debut . He has great chemistry with Flacco and should be the team’s leading receiver (in terms of receptions and maybe touchdowns) the rest of the way.
(3) Lions 101: What is the biggest area of concern for Baltimore as it relates to Monday night's game in Detroit? Where is the Ravens' biggest advantage found?
MV: I think the biggest concern should be the venue and when the game is being played. The Ravens have struggled on the road this season and Ford Field should be a tough place to play for “Football.” If this game was in Baltimore, I would lean toward the Ravens, though their defense would have their hands full with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush wherever they play. Detroit’s two studs at defensive tackle should also be a handful for a Baltimore offensive line that has struggled to get the running game going. What the Ravens do have going for them is that they are on a roll and Flacco has played well these past three weeks. He elevates his play when all the chips are on the tape and the Ravens will have opportunities for big plays against a weak Lions secondary.Night
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