December weather patterns aren’t friendly to most NFL football players, but when the elements are eliminated in a dome stadium like Ford Field, Mother Nature can’t affect the game plans of the participants.
Both the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions had to endure bitter cold, snow and swirling wind in their respective contests in Week 14 and are thankful to be playing in the temperate conditions of an enclosed stadium. Team speed and footing issues are excuses to be had this week on either end.
This pair of 7-6 teams are in the driver’s seat as both control their own destinies as to whether or not they will be playing football or hitting the links in January. That being said, both of these teams haven’t had circuitous paths to their respective records as the Ravens have won three of their last four and the Lions have lost three of their last four.
Detroit will be looking to not only put on a show for their home crowd on the national stage, but they’ll be playing with added pressure given the chase the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are providing in the NFC North. Baltimore has been abysmal on the road this year as they are 1-5 heading into this contest with their loan win coming Oct. 6 against the Miami Dolphins. Good teams find ways to win games, but great teams find ways to overcome the odds on the road.
In order for the Ravens to win this game, they must do three things that will be easier said than done:
1. Keep Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush from exploding for big plays
When Matt Elam said choice words about the receiver known as “Megatron”, Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh had to be frustrated with the 22-year-old rookie. As if the best receiver in the game needed any added motivation, a rookie without a single interception calling out a top-notch player only adds fuel to the fire. That being said, this was going to be a tough matchup for the Ravens regardless given the speed of Johnson and Bush and their ability to break open a game at any point. Bush was a fitting offseason acquisition for the Lions as their propensity to throw the football suits his style of being more of a dual-threat running back; Bush is possibly the best receiving back in the NFL and is able to line up in various spots in several formations for head coach Jim Schwartz. Finding Bush and Johnson on the field is the first step in setting up the alignments and assignments defensively and then the difficult part comes actually having to match them step-for-step on the fast surface the dome provides. They will get theirs, but minimizing their touches to manageable gains as opposed to big plays like those allowed to the Minnesota Vikings over the final two minutes of the fourth quarter are what will give Baltimore the best chance to win.
2. Harass Matthew Stafford even if his unorthodoxed delivery prevents him from being sacked
It can’t be stated enough that the Ravens must create pressure. Despite Bush and Joique Bell putting up solid rushing numbers as a pair, the 20th-ranked ground game isn’t going to be as heavily relied on. Dean Pees will have to dial up creative ways to bring pressure up the middle as Stafford’s unorthodox 3/4 and side-arm deliveries make it tough for defenders to see where he’s going with the football and when he is releasing it.
3. Take advantage of the pleasant conditions by lighting it up through the air against the Lions’ 25th-ranked pass defense
Baltimore is respectable team throwing the football and well below average running the ball. While this is a deviation from year’s past, relying on Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Marlon Brown will be a must in the passing game. Pitta’s return to the club showed more promising completions on third down and in the red zone against Minnesota. That extra threat also gave Ray Rice more room to shake and bake out of the backfield on check-down throws from Joe Flacco. Detroit’s front seven is tough, but their secondary can be defeated. The offensive line’s pass protection and Flacco’s ability to deliver the ball swiftly will be determining factors in the winner and loser.