The Baltimore Ravens travel northwest this week to meet up with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in a mid-November match that is generally unenviable for even the hottest of teams. However, this game looks a lot more winnable for the Ravens than it did at the beginning of the season, or even last week.
Many of the same problems that led to the Ravens’ three-game losing streak were still prevalent against the Cincinnati Bengals, but sometimes all it takes is a victory, especially against the division leader, to snap out of a slump and the Bears are more beatable now than at any point this season.
Chicago will be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler, as oft-traveled veteran Josh McCown starts again in his stead. Cutler came back for all of three quarters after a one-and-a-half game absence to nurse a pulled groin before being removed due to a high ankle sprain. Cutler was also noticeably nursing the injury that sidelined him against the Washington Redskins, causing local writers and pundits to question head coach Marc Trestman‘s decision-making for both leaving Cutler in and starting him at all. With tempers flaring, it will not take much to frustrate combustible Bears like Brandon Marshall.
McCown has looked solid as a fill-in, but he simply does not have Cutler’s talent. With any failed starter, the more he plays, the more his inadequacies will be exposed. Chicago will also be without shut down corner Charles “Peanut” Tillman, which will greatly help Joe Flacco and the passing offense. The secret is out in Baltimore, as teams key on Torrey Smith and dare the rest of the receiving corps to beat them. Devoid of other options, Flacco continues to target Smith (14 times in Week 10) early and often, so the sight of one of the game’s premier corners on the bench will be a welcome one.
The Bears, normally synonymous with stifling defense, are in the bottom third against both the rush and the pass, and this might be the perfect week to get the offense back on track. With Chicago’s 31st-ranked rush defense, it might even be possible for the Ravens to have some semblance of a running game. Actually, wait. (Thinking…) OK, maybe Baltimore should just try and exploit the Bears’ Tillman-less pass defense.
For a defense fresh off of intercepting Andy Dalton three times and coming within one Hail Mary of a start-to-finish dominant performance, Baltimore should be chomping at the bit to get after McCown. The secondary is still vulnerable due to the sheer physicality of Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but an early pass rush could disrupt the journeyman quarterback. Elvis Dumervil is coming off his best game as a Raven, and Terrell Suggs seems like a lock to get at least one sack, after going without one for just the second time of the season last week.
If Baltimore can pull out the win, they have a chance to move within a game of the Bengals, as they take on the Cleveland Browns, who will be fresh and focused after their bye week. In Week 12, the Ravens take on the up-and-down New York Jets, and they can potentially move a game above .500, and leave the three-game losing streak as a forgotten speed bump on the road back to the playoffs. But first, they will have to take care of business in Chicago.