By Matt Citak
The Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers both enter their Week 11 tilt desperately needing of a win. The Ravens sit at 4-5, trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North by three games, but sitting only one game out of the second Wild Card spot. The Packers find themselves with a 5-4 record, two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North and just one game away from the second Wild Card position as well. Green Bay has had a little more luck playing at Lambeau Field this season, going 3-2 in the five home games. Meanwhile Baltimore has struggled on the road, going 2-3 in games played away from M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens have struggled on the offensive side of the ball this season. Baltimore currently ranks 30th in the league in total yards per game at 286.6 and dead last in passing yards per game with only 165.7. A big reason has been the play of veteran quarterback Joe Flacco. Through Baltimore’s first nine games, Flacco has thrown for only 1,551 yards, eight touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. His 5.33 yards per pass attempt and 72.7 passer rating are both the lowest of his career. He is on pace to throw for the fewest yards in a full season since his rookie campaign in 2008.
The Packers started off the year hot, going 4-1 with some impressive wins. But then MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone during a Week 6 loss to the Vikings, and the offense hasn’t looked the same since. In the three and a half games since he took over as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, Brett Hundley has completed 61.2 percent of his passes but for only 701 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. After scoring at least 23 points in four of the five games that Rodgers finished, the Packers have scored 23 points in only one of the four games since.
THE NFL TODAY analyst Nate Burleson weighed in on this week’s Ravens-Packers matchup, as well as other upcoming NFL ON CBS action in Week 11.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers – 1:00 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: What will the Packers need to do in order to stay afloat in the NFC playoff picture until Aaron Rodgers can return towards the end of the season?
Nate Burleson: What they did last game [against the Bears]. There was an assumption that Brett Hundley couldn’t go out there and hold down the fort with Aaron Rodgers being down. You have to keep in mind that Brett might seem young to most folks, because they are unfamiliar with him and his career. He’s been in the league for three years, and not only has he been in the league for three years, but he’s spent those years under Aaron Rodgers. The team has confidence in him, so they can go out there and not abandon what made this team so good. They have Jordy Nelson. They have Davante Adams. So they stick with the running game. Open up that running game with the pass. Let the pass be the strength of what you game plan for. That way you can open up the running game that seemed inconsistent over the course of the season.
CBS Local Sports: Joe Flacco has been one of the least productive quarterbacks in the league this year. Can he turn his play around in time to lead Baltimore to the postseason?
Nate Burleson: For the last handful of years, Joe Flacco’s name has been synonymous with November and December. Later in the year, he’s going to start making things happen, and you’ll find him in a position to put his team in the postseason. Things have been different [this season]. Of course, injuries have a ton to do with it. Look at the flow of wide receivers and the guys who have been available. One game a guy is showing up, then the next game he’s out. That right there is the reason why the offense is going to struggle more. At this point of the season, to try to find who you are and rediscover who you are is really not going to happen. In my experience, once you start tap dancing around in Week 11-13, that’s who you are. The Ravens are too inconsistent. The frustrating thing about them is you find inconsistencies in both the running game and the passing game. But the great thing about the Ravens is that they haven’t played that complete game offensively yet. So if they can muster up a more complete game, where they are protecting the quarterback, letting Flacco drop back and make passes, and the run game gets going, we can see a team that we haven’t seen all season. In my mind, I’m not so sure that’s going to happen.
New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders – 4:25 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Having allowed a total of 36 points in the last three games combined, does it appear as if the Patriots’ defense has finally gotten over some of the issues that plagued them towards the start of the season?
Nate Burleson: You have to think about the individuals who left and the individuals who came [in], starting with Stephon Gilmore. At the beginning of the season, people were calling him a free-agent bust. It wasn’t a talent thing, it was a miscommunication thing. They weren’t on the same page, and it was unfortunate because you want a guy to make an immediate impact. But let’s give credit where credit is due. The New England Patriots are not only looking good on offense, but on defense they are looking great. As much as we wanted to criticize the Patriots, because you don’t have too many opportunities to, we have to understand that they are the best at not only in-game adjustments or mid-season adjustments, but also late-season adjustments. Here they are in the second half of the season, figuring out what works, and it’s definitely working for them defensively.
Offensively, Tom Brady is dropping back and hitting so many different guys. And defensively, they’re able to control the ground and control the air. This is a bad time for everybody else around the league. But if you’re a Patriots player or fan, it’s a great time for you. Your team that just came off a Super Bowl and had inconsistencies on defense — on pace to be one of the historically worst defenses in the game — has just found a rhythm. And when the Pats are in a rhythm, you can almost write them in for a Super Bowl appearance.
CBS Local Sports: How do the Raiders get Marshawn Lynch and the run game going against a struggling New England rush defense?
Nate Burleson: I played under Todd Downing. One thing I know about him is he can dial up some pass plays. That right there is the main anchor of this offense — the passing game. They have to allow that game in the air to open up, that way Marshawn can get going. If you look back before Todd Downing took over as offensive coordinator, whenever Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree had a huge game, the running game always got going. What it does is force defenses to back up and respect that down-the-field threat. You have to get those guys going. The emphasis shouldn’t be to come out and hand the ball off and allow Marshawn to get beat up between the tackles. The emphasis should be starting the game off very aggressively.
It starts with the play calling. Every team starts with 10 or 15 plays that are scripted. You study them on Friday and Saturday. so basically you go into the game thinking, “Regardless of the scenario, we are going to run these 15 plays.” A majority of those 15 plays should be passing plays. Even if you don’t connect on all of them, at least you’re sending a message. Now the defense has to back up a little bit. The linebackers might be pulled out of the box. The defensive backs might play off coverage instead of bump coverage. Once you see that breathing room, you attack that breathing room. If you do this to start the game, by the second or third quarter, the quarterback could look up to see the defenders taking two or three steps back. That’s when you hand the ball off. You don’t force feed him the ball in the beginning of the game. You let Marshawn get going as soon as the defense shows the offense and the passing game respect.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.