5 Baltimore Ravens Players to Watch vs. Detroit Lions
5 Baltimore Ravens Players to Watch vs. Lions
When both of these franchises last met at Ford Field in Detroit on Oct. 9, 2005, the Lions prevailed 35-17, but the storyline wasn't as much about a Lions win as it was a Ravens' meltdown. Baltimore had a staggering amount of penalties with 21 for 147 yards and two game ejections for touching officials. The Ravens hope that this time around they will play a lot more disciplined as they have to focus on stopping the NFL's third-ranked passing offense.
Baltimore's season reached a turning point last week when they won their third-straight game -- albeit the third-straight win on a three-game homestand -- against the Minnesota Vikings 29-26 in dramatic fashion. That "never say die" attitude was on display as quarterback Joe Flacco picked up his defense's shaky performance over the final quarter of play to lead his team to victory.
Detroit fell in a blizzard to the current No. 3 seed in the NFC the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that neutralized what the Lions like to do offensively given the conditions. At 7-6, they currently hold the tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears for the NFC North division lead, but the Green Bay Packers are also coming to crash the party at 6-6-1 with a potentially healthy Aaron Rodgers.
Both teams know the stakes of this game, but the fact remains that the Ravens play significantly worse on the road than they do at the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium in downtown Baltimore. The Ravens are just 1-5 on the road this season but control their own destiny in the AFC playoff picture.
When the two sides face off under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, here are some players to keep an eye out for as their respective impacts on the game could affect the outcome for either side.
5. Jimmy Smith
Easily one of the biggest turnarounds in the 2013 season has been the play of cornerback Jimmy Smith. With his role always increasing for the Ravens, Smith has been asked to cover opponents' best receiver and more often than not has won the battle. Whether it's teams throwing his way and he makes the proper plays on the ball or if teams avoid his side of the field entirely, the former 2011 first-round pick is playing to that grade this season for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. This week, he has to guard Calvin Johnson at some point during the game. This is the benchmark in addition to the litmus tests he's already faced and passed in A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon.
4. Matt Elam
Given the statements that rookie safety Matt Elam made earlier in the week leading up to this contest, the microscope will be magnified on his play against Johnson and the rest of the targets at Matthew Stafford's disposal. Elam has done a serviceable job at the position but has yet to intercept a pass and still has the mindset of a strong safety -- the 22-year-old has gone for big hits more than form tackles and it has cost him some big plays. Assignment football and getting physical are two things the Ravens in general must do this week, especially Elam, if they hope to steal one on the road.
3. Terrell Suggs
Terrell Suggs unfortunately has too many not so fond memories of Ford Field. In the game between these two organizations back in 2005, Suggs was ejected for touching head referee Mike Carey as the Ravens were in complete chaos from the opening whistle until the clock struck zeros at the end of the contest. Professionals put those things behind them and go out and play. Suggs will do just that, and if Elvis Dumervil can return healthy it will help out a guy who was viewed as an early-season NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Baltimore has been without a sack in the last eight quarters of play, and they should look no further than one of the masters of the strip-sack to get the front seven off the schnide.
2. Torrey Smith
Torrey Smith's numbers have been varied throughout the season, and the Ravens would like to see more consistency out of their de facto No. 1 receiver. Last week, Smith had just one catch for 11 yards on five targets, but the previous week he made six catches on 10 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown score. Having tight end Dennis Pitta back in the lineup will relieve some stress on the wide receivers in general, and playing in a dome should as well. Smith will play much faster and be able to use that breakaway speed more at his disposal than when he was in the treacherous footing and playing conditions that were on display against the Vikings.
1. Dennis Pitta
Six catches for 48 yards and a clutch touchdown in the red zone on 11 targets was the stat line for Dennis Pitta in his first game back since Baltimore won Super Bowl XLVII. Undoubtedly, it brought a bigger smile Flacco's face as he now has a more reliable third down and red zone option to help the Ravens sustain and maintain long drives. Detroit is 25th against the pass, and having Pitta back at what looked like 100 percent could mean the Ravens look to expose the seams and routes over the middle more with No. 88.