Opposite Sideline: Healthy Ravens ready to rumble vs. Packers
The lowdown on the Green Bay Packers' next opponent from a beat writer who covers that team.
The Green Bay Packers, fresh off their first victory with Brett Hundley starting at quarterback, are preparing to take on yet another team coming off a bye week, the Baltimore Ravens.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense have struggled for much of the season, but Baltimore’s defense has tried to carry the team as much as possible. We caught up with Jeff Zrebiec, who covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun, to get an idea of what to expect from the team the Packers are facing Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Q. Most casual NFL fans probably think of Joe Flacco as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but he seems to have really struggled recently. Is that more about a true dip in his play or a lack of supporting cast around him? Is there anything to the notion that the offense is too simple?
A. There is no question Flacco's play has dipped to an extent. His mechanics and decision making are lacking. He seems to be more skittish in the pocket than ever before. Health has played a factor. But it's unfair to put all the Ravens' offensive struggles on him. Ozzie Newsome hasn't done nearly enough to address the team's offensive skill positions either in the draft or free agency. The Ravens have enough talent to be a competent offense, but not enough to consistently play with the top teams. They've had instability at offensive coordinator since the Super Bowl season. Aside from the one year (2014) Gary Kubiak was directing the offense, the team has had a below-average offensive line and little semblance of a running game. So there's plenty of issues beyond Flacco. And definitely, the offense has become ultra-conservative over the past couple of years and that just doesn't suit a quarterback like Flacco whose best asset is his arm strength. The Ravens aren't challenging teams down field enough and they spent part of the bye week trying to fix that.
Q. Baltimore always seems to be known for its defense and this current squad is holding up that tradition. Is that more to do with defensive coordinator Dean Pees or is there just better personnel on that side of the ball?
A. Pees has done a nice job mixing things up and disguising things. He's been very aggressive on third downs. But the biggest difference is that the Ravens finally are confident with their secondary. Sick of blowing late leads and giving up big plays, they made a huge investment in their secondary this offseason, signing safety Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr and taking Marlon Humphrey with their first-round pick. The cornerbacks with Jimmy Smith, Carr and Humphrey have been the strength of the team and allowed Pees more flexibility to get after quarterbacks. The Ravens really struggled earlier this season to stop the run, which is so uncharacteristic of them. However, the healthy return of defensive tackle Brandon Williams has helped solve that.
Q. The Ravens are coming off their bye week. How have coach John Harbaugh's teams done traditionally coming off a bye?
A. Under Harbaugh after byes, the Ravens are 7-2 and they've outscored opponents, 231-143. Since 2002, which obviously precedes Harbaugh, the Ravens' 12-3 record after the bye is tied for the best in the NFL.