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Packers vs. Ravens Preview: 5 Things to Watch For in Week 6 Matchup

The Packers head to Baltimore to take on last year's Super Bowl champs. Or what's left of them, anyway. While departures have hurt the Ravens, T-Sizzle and company still pose a legitimate threat. Here's what we'll be watching for.

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This Sunday’s game features two of the three highest paid players in the league. Naturally, it’s Aaron Rodgers and, uh, Joe Flacco? All kidding aside, I love Joe Flacco. In an era of sports where you get the sense that the Kobe Bryant’s and Ray Lewis’ of the world would quite literally, die for their team, it’s almost refreshing to see a guy so nonchalant. Flacco reached the mountaintop of his profession, got paid a crapton of money and now? He’s as vanilla as ever. Never change, Joe Flacco. That said, the Ravens, despite losing six starters from last year’s Super Bowl winning team, remain a tough out. They’re still solid on defense and John Harbaugh (the less crazy one) is among the better coaches in the league. Not to mention, the Packers haven’t exactly been stellar on the road so far this season. Will that change this Sunday? Here are five things that might factor in:

All kinds of Mike Neal

I’ll go ahead and just apologize to everyone ahead of time because now that I’m excited about Mike Neal, I fully expect his hamstring to catch on fire at some point during Sunday’s game. If you recall, Mike Neal was all over the place against Detroit last week, totaling six tackles and a sack. Granted, that was against a pretty average Lions offensive line, but Baltimore’s isn’t much better. Michael Oher’s reputation probably surpasses his actual talent at this point. And if newly acquired LT Eugene Monroe isn’t ready or has to fill in at guard, that leaves the corpse of Bryant McKinnie to protect Joe Flacco’s blindside. No one’s expecting Neal to produce like Matthews, but after last week, there’s certainly reason to be excited about his potential.

The Ravens' pass rush

The loss of linebacker/preacher Ray Lewis certainly hurts the Ravens from a leadership standpoint, but in terms of actual production on the field, losing Paul Krueger and Dannelle Ellerbe cost them even more. Still though, the Ravens remain one of the fiercest pass rushing teams in the league. They rank 2nd in the NFL with 19 total sacks, meaning the offensive line of the Packers could face their toughest test yet. The 49’ers and Bengals feature great defenses of their own but you could argue even they don’t have a Big 3 quite like the Ravens. NT, Haloti Ngata is basically immovable and has his own gravitational pull. Elvis Dumervil remains a top-notch pass rusher. And Terrell Suggs is balling particularly hard this season, making him a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate.

Takeaway attempts

Remember a few years back when seemingly once a game, a receiver would catch a ball against the Packers, and just as he was on the cusp of a huge play and everyone in their living room was yelling, "NOOOO!!" Charles Woodson would come swooping in and karate chop the ball out? That was fun. Strangely, that move didn’t seem to rub off on the other corners who played with Woodson. Now seems like a good time for it to return. Because in their three other games besides that slop-fest in Cincinnati, the Packers have forced just one other turnover – putting them just ahead of Atlanta for the fewest amount of takeaways in the NFC. For a team that’s shown a noticeable improvement on defense, that seems odd. I doubt we’ll see a sudden influx of corners jumping routes or anything, but you have to believe Capers and Co. has the defense working on forcing more turnovers.

Micah Hyde on return duty

So far this season, the Packers have worked out somewhere around 12,619 players for punt and kick returns. None of them have been signed to the 53-man roster. Either Mike McCarthy hasn’t seen what he’s looking for, or he likes someone they already have. Judging by last week, that someone could be Micah Hyde. Though Hyde didn’t do much with his two punt returns versus the Lions (7 yards total), it was more what he didn’t do that could have him in line for more returns – fumble the ball (something Jeremy Ross wasn’t very good at). And though game situations are far more indicative of a player’s ability, Hyde looked impressive at return duty during the preseason and training camp as well. Expect him to get at least a few more chances this Sunday.

Slowing down Torrey Smith

When you think about the best receivers in football, Torrey Smith probably isn’t the first one that comes to mind. He is however, one of the fastest. In fact, Smith leads the league with 20.7 yards per catch this season. That speed is only complimented by the fact that Flacco throws one of the best deep balls in the league. Not like it’s any big whoop to Joe, though. And while Smith might be the Ravens’ only real downfield threat (assuming Jacoby Jones is out) let’s not forget, this is essentially the same defense that surrendered 200+ yards to a mummified Anquan Boldin despite a lack of receivers around him. Having Morgan Burnett back certainly helps the Packers but either way, containing Smith (much like they did A.J. Green) will be a vital part of keeping the Ravens out of the end zone.

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