Four Downs: Packers-Ravens preview
Four Downs is back looking at Green Bay’s trip to Baltimore, where the Ravens are wearing their black jerseys (they’re 10-3 all-time wearing them). Since when else are we going to do this, let’s brush up on our Poe to get into the proper mood. Comments, questions and any thoughts whatsoever are welcome here or on our Facebook page. Please ‘Like’ us!
1. Baltimore’s nickname was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” In it, a raven basically shows up and taunts a sad man about loss and the panging memories of those losses which will never, or “nevermore,” go away. The man likes to think about these memories, though, even if they hurt now.
Recent Super Bowl championships are the furthest things from bad memories for the Packers and Ravens and their respective fan bases, but they are in the past nonetheless. These teams are similar. They each hit their optimal stride at the perfect time, each faced demanding games on the road and each hung on to victory in the Super Bowl’s closing moments.
And because of those very-recent successes, each team’s expectations remain aimed directly at the same high standard, no matter the roster shakeups or injuries each team has faced, those inevitable changes in the NFL. They both play to their reputations as constant, if altered and not always consistent, contenders for the crown. Sunday is a chance for Baltimore or Green Bay to notch arguably their best win of the season – the Packers especially in this regard – and to quiet that heckling raven for another day. Every big win, like this one would be, suggests even bigger things potentially within reach on the horizon.
2. Many of Poe’s murderous characters were in various states of mind-warping drug abuse in his stories. Sometimes the acts they discuss committing or seeing are called into question because the narrator telling the tale was, mentally, miles and miles away from reality, potentially hallucinating entire scenes in a fog of opium or wine.
The Ravens are second in the NFL with 19 sacks. Terrell Suggs could be as menacing a pass rusher as Green Bay sees all season; he has seven of those sacks along with 36 total tackles, and offseason acquisition Elvis Dumervil has added three sacks. Baltimore will without question be looking to make Aaron Rodgers see torrential pressure and, as with any quarterback, the threat of persistent stress can make one see things coming both real and imagined, altering the way a quarterback plays in the pocket.
Green Bay’s running game is getting plenty of due attention, and it will be important as ever for it to keep the Ravens from being able to singularly lock their beady eyes on Rodgers. The offensive line has been strong thus far, but did struggle at times in a fevered environment in Cincinnati against a brutish defense. As usual, they are going to be the first unit of measure as to how comfortable Rodgers feels after taking the snap.
3. We should probably discuss Clay Matthews. The importance of losing Matthews’ presence on the field in no way diminishes the continued impressive progress shown by Mike Neal and Nick Perry, the two linebackers who will be called on most to replace the disruption caused by Matthews. Perry and Neal have been great, especially last week against the Lions, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do fine without Matthews – especially against Baltimore’s offensive line, rated the worst in the league so far by Pro Football Focus.
But the thing with Matthews is that, like Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” heard thumping beneath the floorboards, when he’s on the field an offense knows exactly where he is. His presence is loud. Whether he’s productive on a given play or series, whether the action goes his way or not, Matthews has to be accounted for when he’s playing, the same way a grease fire requires your instant attention. This, of course, helps everyone else. Before a play, he’s the heart of the defense, likely the focal point when an offense is setting up its protection.
Again, there’s no reason to think Neal and Perry won’t continue being effective linebackers for the Packers. Baltimore could be a good opponent for them to feast on. Still, the rest of the defense will be tested under increased notice for the next month or so without Matthews’ steady beat getting most of the offense’s nervous attention.
4. In Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” Fortunato’s insults and arrogance and general underestimation of the narrator, Montresor, ultimately gets him walled up in a dank wine cellar for life.
This is an extreme example – hey, Poe isn’t exactly mild reading – but as far as Joe Flacco and the defending champion Ravens are concerned, they still deal with a fair amount of skepticism. Shouting, bronzed and massive-tie-knotted pundits yell about Flacco’s ELITENESS like it can be measured the same way a fuel gauge is when it’s teetering towards empty. (Has he run out of ELITENESS!?! CAN HE EVER REFILL??)
In reality, Flacco’s won a Super Bowl but also isn’t consistent. That he can’t usually fall into an easy sub-category of NFL quarterbacks seems to stump people. But in short, he can throw five interceptions in a loss to the Buffalo Bills or, you know, outduel Peyton Manning on the road in the playoffs. That’s just how Flacco goes.
As a whole, Baltimore is rebuilding a fearsome defense into another fearsome defense, though with a suspect secondary; offensively, their running game is sort of mystifyingly bad thus far – that offensive line has a say in it, though – but Ray Rice remains a dual-threat torpedo hedgehog. The point here is: to take the Ravens lightly or to not respect their accomplishments or, more importantly, their ability to win by any gross means necessary is a mistake. We do not foresee the Packers going all Fortunato here. In Baltimore, where the Ravens typically play much better, escaping with any sort of victory will be very impressive.
In the poem, Poe’s antagonizing raven eventually wore the narrator down. He loses control of himself, falling into lunacy. But who talks to birds anymore, anyway?
Pick: Packers, ugly. (Not you; the game. You look great.)
(Once more, a note on the following scale: Ted Thompson is a tough guy to read with a sense of humor, a pretty good one at that, dryer than Nevada at noon. In an attempt to pay homage to his flat style of delivery, we will couple our pick with a 1-5 rating scale of our confidence translated into Thompson Confidence, which, we feel, is just as ultimately silly and tough to derive meaning from as choosing a score.)
Honorary Ted Thompson ‘I feel confident’ scale of confidence: 2 ¾ ‘I feel confident’-s out of 5.