Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

NICKEL PACKAGE 1.Will Joe Flacco get back on track? As the Baltimore Ravens (6-6) take on the Detroit Lions (2-10) today at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens are focused on maintaining relevancy in the AFC wild-card race and the Lions are looking for respectability.

And Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is simply looking to regain his form after throwing just two touchdowns against six interceptions in the past five games. Banged-up with hip, knee and ankle problems, Flacco is a shadow of the vibrant passer he was to begin the season.

The Lions, though, could prove to be just what he needs to get back on track. They rank last in the league in pass defense, allowing 274.8 passing yards per game. The Ravens are averaging 226.6 passing yards a game. Flacco is a capable passer, but has been beaten up too much over the past two weeks in games against the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers where he was sacked a total of eight times. The Lions aren't that type of caliber of defense, though.

2. Can the Ravens fix their red-zone problems?
The Ravens' identity crisis in the red zone stems from not being able to decide whether they're capable of running the football into the end zone behind a power backfield or trying to finesse it with fade passes. Against the Packers, Flacco was intercepted in the end zone and Ray Rice fumbled inside the 20-yard line. The Ravens can't afford these kind of miscues, and the offensive line needs to roll up its sleeves and start bashing people.

3. Can the Ravens contain Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson?
Johnson is the biggest wide receiver in the league at 6-foot-5, 239 pounds. He's also extremely fast and athletic with a great vertical leap. He has scored a touchdown in each of the past three games and has topped the 100-yard mark in each of those contests. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called Johnson a matchup nightmare. He's correct in his assessment.

4. Are the Ravens too injured to match up?
They may not have free safety Ed Reed (strained groin, foot) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (sprained medial collateral ligament) on the field today. The Ravens aren't the same defense without two of their most dynamic playmakers.

5. Will the Ravens avoid the penalty bug?
Ranked second in the NFL in penalties and penalty yardage, the Ravens were flagged a season-high 12 penalties with five pass interference infractions in Green Bay. The pass interference calls were the most assessed to a single team since 2001. The Ravens were once flagged 21 times against the Lions in 2005, which is one less than the NFL record.

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Lions' secondary

Joe Flacco has been in a serious slump lately, throwing two touchdowns with six interceptions in the past five games. This should be a matchup to his liking, though. The Lions rank last in the NFL in passing defense, and seven quarterbacks have already eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark against them this season. And Flacco traditionally thrives at home with seven touchdown passes against four interceptions while averaging 259 passing yards at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Lions' porous secondary should have trouble reacting to Flacco provided that he's able to step into his throws while dealing with various hip, ankle and knee ailments. There's no question that Flacco has been in a downward spiral lately. The Lions could prove to be the perfect tonic for what has been affecting him. It should be a relief for Flacco after playing against the top-ranked defenses in the league over the past two games and being sacked eight times.  

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens MLB Ray Lewis vs. Lions RB Kevin Smith

This shapes up as a winnable encounter for Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who leads the Ravens' defense in tackles. Lewis isn't quite the sideline-to-sideline type, but remains athletic and mobile enough to track down most ball carrier. Smith is an inviting target as an upright runner who has trouble getting lower than defenders to break tackles. He has only rushed for 100 yards once this season for the two-win Lions. Since that game, he has averaged 52.6 rushing yards per contest. Smith is a solid receiver out of the backfield and a fairly tough runner given his dimensions. The Ravens lead the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per carry, a 3.5 average. Lewis remains a major part of that last remaining vestige of the Ravens' traditionally stingy defense's strong suit, its stout run defense.

THREE DOWNS WITH ...
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice

1.On quarterback Joe Flacco: "There's no difference in Joe. Sometimes at quarterback you get a lot of the pressure, because essentially, you're not scoring points and a lot of the stuff goes towards the quarterback.

"I mean, Joe's still playing football. He's trying to make plays for this team, and he's going to continue to try to make plays and make plays."

2. On if he feels he could be a bigger part of the red-zone offense: "Oh yeah, I definitely feel whenever I'm on the field, I'm a guy that wants to produce whether it's goal-line, short-yardage, red zone, anytime I'm in there. In the red zone, it's a mentality."

3. On what it's like to play a team that has only won twice: "You've got to watch the film. If you guys get a chance, you can check them out. They are a very athletic, talented team who plays hard, and if you watch the way a couple of guys are playing, they're trying to build something over there.

"When you're trying to build something, it doesn't happen overnight. That's what their team is. They're an NFL football team. They're going to play hard.  

  THREE DOWNS WITH  ...
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson

1. On the Ravens' defense: "They have some talented players back there, but definitely Green Bay found some holes over there that they're trying to exploit. There were a bunch of flags in that game as well. So, we should have some chances."

2. On whether he likes his matchups: "Yeah, definitely. I have to. When I step out onto the field, that's the way I feel every Sunday. Just a combination of size and speed and being physical. You know, being physical is a big part."

3. On growing under new coach Jim Schwartz: "Yeah, we can definitely grow under his direction. We need to get back to executing the plays like they're supposed to be done, and we'll be all right out there on the field. And until we do that, we'll have some problems."


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