Hub Arkush: Ravens hard to gauge
There is both good news and bad news for the Bears this Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens will bring one of the NFL’s worst offenses to Soldier Field, struggling both on the ground and through the air and that could offer some tonic to a Bears defense that is also one of the worst in the league.
On the flip side, the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens are still one of the best defenses in the NFL and, in his second start of the season, Josh McCown will face the best pass rush the Bears have seen this year.
That is especially unsettling, realizing the Bears offensive line had its worst outing of the season last Sunday against the Lions.
Joe Flacco is among the NFL’s wealthiest players with the contract he signed following the Ravens Super Bowl win, and one of the least productive quarterbacks in the game with a 77.3 passer rating, 25th in the NFL.
Flacco managed just 6.7 yards a pass and his 12 TD passes are offset by 11 interceptions.
Part of his problems may be the fact the Ravens are 30th in the NFL rushing the football and 32nd, dead last, in average gain per rush.
That’s hard to believe when Ray Rice is your feature back, but he has just 115 carries through nine games for 289 yards, a 2.5 yard per carry average.
Bernard Pierce was supposed to be a great compliment to Rice this season, but he’s averaged just 2.5 yards a pop on 93 carries.
Usually a huge factor in the Ravens passing game, Rice has also struggled there, managing just 4.9 yards a catch on 33 receptions for 161 yards.
The suspicion the Ravens would miss Anquan Boldin is born out in No. 1 receiver, Torrey Smith’s numbers. While he’s caught 41 passes for 753 yards, an outstanding 18.4 average, Smith’s been targeted 84 times. No. 1 receivers who convert less than half their targets don’t stay No. 1’s for long.
The Ravens biggest problem has been the offensive line, which is puzzling since it started the season with four starters from the Super Bowl team and has been so bad the Ravens dealt for Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville before the trade deadline.
Defensively, the Ravens have reloaded nicely after losing Paul Kruger, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed and Cary Williams. The additions of Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil and rookie Matt Elam have made the rebuilding of that unit somewhat seamless.
The key matchups in this ballgame feature the game’s best nose tackle, Haloti Ngata, on the inside shoulders of Kyle Long and Matt Slauson at different times, and Terrell Suggs and Dumervil rushing off the edges on Jordan Mills and Jermon Bushrod.
The Ravens have 32 QB sacks, paced by Suggs’ nine and Dumervil’s eight.
Jimmy Smith has nice size on one corner at 6-foot-2 but Lardarius Webb is smallish at 5-10 and that will create a mismatch for either Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery.
On the other side of the ball, Rice against the Bears’ two rookie linebackers is the key. As badly as Rice has struggled this year, Mel Tucker has to be sure Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene isn’t the antidote he’s been looking for.
One other matchup to watch is John Harbaugh, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the NFL through his first five seasons, against first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman.
Harbaugh is sure to have some custom pressures designed for McCown and how Trestman and Aaron Kromer counter could be the difference in the game.
This is the Bears’ biggest game of the season. A Bears victory argues there’s no reason they can’t handle anyone else left on the schedule and 10-6 is realistic.
Lose this one and the Bears winning five of their last six is about as likely as Bill Belichick hosting Saturday Night Live.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at email@example.com.