Tale Of The Tape: Baltimore Ravens At Detroit Lions
- QuarterbackThe Ravens have not looked like the team that won the Super Bowl last year, as they are struggling to hold on to the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Joe Flacco is taking a lot of heat because he has thrown nearly as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (18), but he knows what it takes to win important games and he has one of the best deep arms in the NFL.Matthew Stafford has a lot of work to do after fumbling the ball five times in the Week 13 Snow Bowl loss at Philadelphia. He’s back in his comfort zone at Ford Field, where he will have perfect weather conditions to get the ball to Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush (calf), Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Nate Burleson. Stafford must avoid turnovers in this vital game.
- OffenseThe Ravens have struggled to run the ball and it could be problematic against the sixth-rated run defense of the Lions. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry (combined), and that’s disastrous. Wide receiver Torrey Smith has caught 55 passes for 963 yards and four TDs, and he is a big-play maker. Marlon Brown has caught six TD passes and is a solid contributor.The Lions believe that Joique Bell will make a solid contribution on the ground even if the speedy Bush can’t play after tweaking his calf. Johnson will be back in his comfort zone at home and he has proven time and again that he can dominate there. Look for backup tight end Joseph Fauria to make plays in the red zone, while the Lions hope Burleson can take some of the heat off Johnson.
- DefenseThe Ravens rank ninth in overall defense, but their losses in this area will likely come to the forefront in this game when they are asked to find a way to slow down Johnson’s production. Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Corey Graham are very competitive players but they don’t appear to be good enough to slow Johnson down. ILB Daryl Smith has a team-high 102 tackles and a remarkable 19 passes defensed.The Lions have a lot of shortcomings on defense, but they generally do a good job against the interior run – although that was not the case in the snow at Philadelphia. If the Lions get their bearings at home, they can pressure Flacco with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah. Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch leads the Lions with 107 tackles.
- Special TeamsThe Ravens have a chance to tilt the game in their favor with their return teams. Both Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones have reached the endzone, while their coverage teams have been solid. Head coach John Harbaugh has faith in PK Justin Tucker, who has made 29-of-31 FG attempts.Jeremy Ross is an asset in the return game for the Lions. Ross has brought a punt and a kickoff back for touchdowns. Placekicker David Akers has had some struggles – 15-of-20 on FG attempts – but he is 2-of-2 on 50-plus yarders.
Both teams need this game desperately, but the Ravens have a big advantage in the coaching matchup with Harbaugh over the mistake-prone Jim Schwartz. The Ravens find a way. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor