Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6), 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Ravens offense vs. Lions defense
At least both teams know they won’t get stuck playing in weather this time. For the first 54 minutes last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense clomped around in the snow and played an almost randomized form of football. In the final six minutes, the field conditions stabilized and Flacco went to work, completing 7 of 11 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Flacco feasted on Vikings linebackers Audie Cole and Chad Greenway in both man and zone coverage.
The Lions use a lot of similar coverage concepts as the Vikings, so it will be on Stephen Tulloch and NFL interception leader DeAndre Levy to play with discipline. That includes late in the down, which Flacco was able to work into last week as the Ravens used a sixth blocker – usually running back Bernard Pierce or Ray Rice – to buttress their protection against the Vikings’ formidable four-man rush. The Ravens will take the same approach this week against an even better Lions four-man rush.
To save his team some trouble, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell may want to just have Flacco drop back and throw on every down. After all, the Ravens offensive line continues to get no push whatsoever on the ground. Likely the only thing keeping the Ravens from throwing nonstop is a wide receiving corps that lacks the depth and refinement to be featured in an unbalanced offense.
Lions offense vs. Ravens defense
Last week the Ravens defense had success in press-man, which is not a coverage they play often. This was likely a strategic adjustment made for a snowy field. This week, they should get back to more of their off-man coverages, which means savvy linebacker Daryl Smith will be a key buzz defender underneath against Calvin Johnson’s slant routes.
Johnson is frequently used on slants at the deeper intermediate level, as well, so strong safety James Ihedigbo, who was outstanding in the box against Minnesota, will play deep, alongside free safety Abe Elam. This will mean more understaffed defensive fronts for Detroit to run against. Reggie Bush appears set to play after sitting last week with a calf injury. His presence is vital because the Lions’ ground game will have to come out of passing looks, as their offensive line—like many offensive lines these days—is not capable of driving Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Arthur Jones off the ball.