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Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco

Two of the last three Super Bowl champions will get together when the Green Bay Packers take on the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. Despite their past successes, these two franchises have incurred some struggles early in 2013.The Packers got off to a rocky 1-2 start before the bye week. They did manage to improve to 2-2 with a win over Detroit last week, yet the Lions were without All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Meanwhile, the Ravens are certainly seeing the effects of all their offseason departures. Their defense looked far from the Ravens defense of past years as Peyton Manning carved it up for seven touchdown passes. Despite this, the Ravens have rallied to win three of their past four games. However, Baltimore looked extremely poor in the 23-20 loss against Buffalo, turning the ball over a season-high five times.

This is the fifth overall meeting between the two teams, who first played in 1998.  The Packers lead the all-time series 3-1, last beating the Ravens 27-14 in 2009. Joe Flacco, who threw three interceptions in that game, and Aaron Rodgers, who threw two picks, both look to have better performances this time around.

3 Things to Watch

Ravens’ rushing offense
With the names Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, one would expect the Ravens to boast one of the league’s top running attacks. In fact, Baltimore is tied for 26th in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging a mere 77.8 yards per game. This low output can’t be blamed on a lack of opportunities, as the Ravens average just 2.8 yards per rush. This ranks them second to last in the league in yards per rush, just above the Jaguars’ 2.7 average. Rice, held to just 89 yards in his first three games, rushed for a season-high 74 yards and scored two touchdowns last week against Miami. Before he got 33 touches last week, he had seen just 41 total for the season. The Packers have been stout against the run this year, but a revived workload should make Rice more of a factor moving forward. Rice needs to do a better job holding on to the football. He has fumbled the ball five times in his past eight games, dating to last season's playoffs.

Packers’ defense without Clay Matthews
Green Bay was dealt a big blow this past week when news came out that Matthews, the Packers’ Pro Bowl linebacker, would be out nearly a month with a broken right thumb. The Packers will start two backup linebackers on Sunday as linebacker Brad Jones also will be out with a hamstring injury. The Packers rank fifth in the NFL against the run and Matthews has played a central role in this. Matthews has three tackles for a loss on rushing plays this year and leads the Packers with 15 tackles for loss on rushing plays over the past three years. They also will miss Matthews’ pass-rushing ability, which would come in handy versus a very poor Ravens offensive line.  Matthews has racked up one-fourth of the Packers’ 12 sacks on the season. Other than Matthews, only Nick Perry (two) has multiple sacks for Green Bay. Joe Flacco needs to take advantage of the extra time he is sure to have with Matthews on the sidelines.

Good Joe or Bad Joe?
Just which Joe Flacco will show up on Sunday? Will we see the one who threw five interceptions against the Bills or the one from last year’s Super Bowl run? Since cashing in with a giant contract, Flacco has had a rather forgettable first five games. Currently, he has completed just 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and eight interceptions. Entering Week 6, he only trails Eli Manning, Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub in interceptions thrown this season. Of quarterbacks that have started the first five games, Manning and Palmer have lower quarterback ratings than Flacco’s 70.1. He does still have a good connection with Torrey Smith, who is averaging a staggering 20.1 yards per catch, but Flacco appears uncomfortable with the rest of his receiving options. In fact, after Smith’s 52 targets, no Raven has more than 29. Smith has three times the receiving yards of anyone else on the team. Rice, who has long been a top target for Flacco, has just 17 receptions thus far.

Key Player for Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers, QB
This may seem like an obvious choice, but it can’t be argued. Rodgers is the key for Green Bay. While he struggled a bit against Cincinnati, the signal-caller has been near the top of his game in 2013. He is completing 66.4 percent of his passes, has a touchdown to interception ratio of three to one and has posted three games with a passer rating over 100. Rodgers will need to watch out for Terrell Suggs, who already has seven sacks.

Key Players for Baltimore: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, CBs
Webb is the leader for a secondary that is likely to have its hands full with a bevy of talented Packers receivers. James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb pose matchup problems for nearly every secondary they face. Webb will team with fellow corner Smith in an attempt to bottle up Rodgers’ playmakers. Webb looks to be fully recovered from a nagging thigh injury. Webb and Smith both have the size to be physical with Jones and Nelson, but might not be quick enough for the shifty Cobb. Corey Graham will probably be the player Rodgers will target, as he has struggled mightily in coverage this season and already has given up four touchdown catches.

Final Analysis:

Clay Matthews' injury certainly hurts Green Bay’s defense, as do the injuries to Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett in the secondary. The good news for the Packers is that I don’t see the type of play from Joe Flacco that he displayed in the playoffs a year ago. He is struggling mightily and there is no reason to believe he will turn it around this week. I’ll take the more dependable Aaron Rodgers, as the Ravens won’t be able to cover his trio of receivers. The Ravens will try and win by keeping Rodgers off of the field with their running game and pressuring him when he is on the field with the trio of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil.

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Green Bay 31, Baltimore 17