As we do each week, we sat down and chatted with the blogger of our weekly opponent, and with the Chicago Bears facing the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, the go-to guy was Jason Butt of Baltimore Beatdown. Make sure to thank Jason for stopping by this week, and give their version of this post HERE.
1- The Ravens are having a tough go on the road this season (1-4), and have never won at Soldier Field (0-2). Why do you think the Ravens are struggling during away games so much this season?
Jason: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have struggled on the road at times, which made last year's Super Bowl run that much more surprising, given they beat Denver and New England away from M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens generally have an advantage at home because they have one of the best home crowds in the NFL. Away from Baltimore? It's been a journey.
There have been some bad road losses over the years. Two years ago there was a loss to Jacksonville on the road, with Joe Flacco arguably playing the worst game of his career. Then again, this year's road loss to Buffalo was also seen as one of the franchise's worst, with Flacco tossing five interceptions.
Outside of the postseason, the Ravens have been an average or below-average road team. There's no real rhyme or reason behind it either. It's just carried on into this season as well.
2- There are plenty of blue-chip players on the Ravens roster, but who are a few that Bears fans may not know about that they should keep an eye on?
Jason: Bears fans probably know who Lardarius Webb is (and Corey Graham, certainly), but they may not be as familiar with Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' third-year cornerback out of Colorado. Smith was a first-round pick but hadn't lived up to the billing until now. He's put in some great performances of late, which includes an impressive showing against the Bengals a week ago. In the same secondary, safety James Ihedigbo has been a terror of late, picking off two passes and helping force a big fourth-down stop in overtime a week ago (though he did have the biggest mishap of the year on a tipped Hail Mary pass that A.J. Green caught to send the game to extra time). But don't let that play fool you. Ihedigbo's been exceptional lately and the Ravens will count on him once again this week.
The Ravens lack under-the-radar but big-play kind of guys on offense right now. You could make the case for Marlon Brown at receiver, given that he's an undrafted guy out of Georgia. But he's producing based on what the defense wants to take away. The Bengals let Torrey Smith run around in what appeared to be zone schemes, which allowed Flacco to key on him in the passing game. If the Bears bracket Smith, Brown could be someone Flacco looks for.
3- The Ravens front office have been noted as one of the best in the league in finding solid talent each and every draft, but seeing so many players leave after last year's Super Bowl title seems to have left some serious depth issues in Baltimore. Are you surprised that there has been a big of a drop-off, considering the infusion of talent the last few drafts?
Jason: I'm surprised at the struggles, yes, but it's apparent that it's not a front office issue. The last three draft classes have all featured first overall picks on the defensive side of the ball (Jimmy Smith, Courtney Upshaw, Matt Elam). Smith is becoming a solid corner, Upshaw's having a decent season and Elam is starting as a rookie. The defense, outside of the Broncos game (which has become commonplace for most teams), has played well this year. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs have had excellent seasons as rush linebackers, which has helped with the secondary's success as well.
The most surprising aspect of this team is the inability to run the ball. The Ravens brought back four of the five linemen from the postseason (before trading Bryant McKinnie to Miami) and could not get the ground game going. It's become apparent there is schematic disconnect between the linemen and a full zone scheme implemented this offseason. This new approach has failed miserably and led to the Ravens going from a solid run team to one of the league's worst. It's affected Joe Flacco's play as a result too, as he's been forced to carry the offense by himself with little receiver help outside of Torrey Smith.
4- Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are each averaging less than 3 yards per carry so far this season... Is Rice still being hampered by his injured hip earlier this year, and do you see the Ravens' running game getting any better in the back half of the season?
Jason: Rice says he's 100 percent but he hasn't played like it lately. He doesn't have the same agility and lateral movement that's made him so dangerous over the years. He's not making the first defender miss and is going down quickly after contact. I'd be willing to bet the injury is still affecting him, though the professional side of Rice will never admit that.
Here's the thing though: If Rice's injury was the biggest issue, then Pierce would theoretically be able to pick up the slack, which could allow Rice to rest. He hasn't done so. That, to me, is the biggest indictment on the offensive line. Here are two quality backs that can't get any room to run. It would seem that it doesn't matter who is in the Ravens' backfield. You could put Walter Payton back there at this point and I'm not sure he'd do much better. That's how bad the offensive line has been for the backs this year.
Don't be surprised if Bears fans are in disbelief Sunday afternoon at the team's ability to stop the run.
5- The Chicago Bears have some pretty identifiable weaknesses this season... What do you think the Ravens will have to do to beat Chicago at Soldier Field this weekend?
Jason: Based on my lack of confidence that the Ravens will be able to run the ball - I'll believe it when I see it - the Ravens have to win by keeping the Bears to under 20 points. The good news is that the Bears are trotting out a backup quarterback in Josh McCown. The bad news is he's looked like a capable quarterback, evidenced by his game against Green Bay and the final drive against Detroit. The secondary will need to limit plays in the passing game, which has been a strength of the defense.
Baltimore's run defense has been susceptible at times so I do think Matt Forte will be able to find some room. But the Ravens will have to keep the score low like they've done in recent weeks. In my opinion, Baltimore's best shot at winning is keeping the Bears to 20 points or less, and I'm leaning toward the less part. It took the Ravens' offense overtime to get to 20 points last week and it hadn't done so the previous three weeks.
Thanks again to Jason for his insight this week... Good luck tomorrow!