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Packers Ravens preview

by Mark Daniels

Back on the road again!   The Packers travel to Baltimore Sunday for a date with the reigning Super Bowl Champion Ravens.  This will be a tough test for the 2-2 Packers who have dropped both losses away from Lambeau Field.   The Ravens (3-2), got routed to open the season by Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver, a game they had to play on the road because the Orioles wouldn't give up a home game.  The defending champs usually get to kick off the season on their home field.  They beat two teams that were struggling at the time in Cleveland and Houston before falling on the road to Buffalo where Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco tossed five interceptions.   Baltimore bounced back with a 26-23 road win against Miami when Justin Tucker's fourth field goal of the game went through inside of the 2 minute warning.  Yes, it's not the same Ravens team that knocked off the 49ers in the title game what with Ray Lewis now broadcasting and Ed Reed toiling in Houston.  But they still have plenty of talent.   Offensively, Flacco has a now healthy running back in Ray Rice and a home run threat in Torrey Smith.  On defense, Terrell Suggs  is playing lights out with seven sacks and Haloti Ngata is a beast in the middle of their 3-4 front.

Here's what the Packers have to say about the champs:

Audio:  Mike McCarthy and Packers players on the Ravens.

This is how the game shapes up for me.   I'm sure the Packers on defense will play hard but I can't believe the production lost by the broken thumb suffered by Clay Matthews and pulled hamstring of Brad Jones will be made up by Mike Neal outside and Jamari Lattimore inside at linebacker.  I have a feeling defensive coordinator Dom Capers will dial up some creative personnel combinations and blitz packages to ensure pressure is applied to Flacco.   The Ravens offensive line has been leaky enough, Flacco's been dropped 14 times and Baltimore traded for Eugene Monroe to shore up the tackle spot held by Bryant McKinnie.  Getting Flacco in favorable third and long situations will require a strong effort by the run defense.   Ranked 5th in the league, the Packers front seven will have to control Ray Rice who missed a couple of games but appears to be rounding into form.  He's a strong willed power cut runner,   Flacco generally likes to work underneath coverages but will take shots deep.  Torrey Smith is a burner on the outside and Jacoby Jones has danced his way to many a big play.  Long routes take time and if the Capers plan is executed, Flacco might not get it.

The Green Bay offense had been hoping for a run game this season and now that they have it, will rely on the ground attack to keep the noisy home crowd quiet.   Eddie Lacy will once again hammer away.   The Packers lead the NFL in average yards gained on first down and that will be important to keep up the tempo in Mike McCarthy's play calling.   Ngata hasn't practiced all week because of a hip injury and if he can't go, it will be almost as big of a scratch as Calvin Johnson was to the Lions last week, he's that disruptive inside.  The attention will be on the young tackles this week in protection, rather than the three inside players as was the case against Detroit's front.   David Bahktiari and Don Barclay will have to deal with speed, edge rushers in Suggs and former Bronco Elvis Dummervil.  Reed's departure is far more noticeable than Lewis' for he quarterbacked the entire secondary.  Green Bay's playmakers on the perimeter outnumber the quality defensive backs for Baltimore, advantage Packers.

This will be the 22nd time the Packers have played the NFL's king of the hill.  They are 6-15 all-time against defending Super Bowl champs with only 8 of those games played at home where they have three of those six wins.  So that makes them 3-10 on the road.  Throw in the fact the Ravens are 33-7 at home since John Harbaugh became their head coach and you can see how difficult it appears for the Pack.  They are certainly capable.  Mike McCarthy has a decent enough road record and the Packers did have 4th quarter leads in both road losses this season.  But they weren't able to finish.  Something odd seems to happen, like Johnathan Franklin's fumble in Cincinnati.   This time I see can't miss Mason Crosby ending his perfect run of field goals, a crazy turnover or something like spoiling the Packers chance at victory.   My pick is a slight lean to the home team, Ravens 24 - Packers 21.