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NFL Preview - Green Bay (2-2) at Baltimore (3-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Baltimore Ravens' defense may not be as feared as it once was, but thanks to linebacker Terrell Suggs, it is still a dangerous one.
Coming off a three-sack performance, Suggs will lead the Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against a Green Bay Packers club that will be without its star linebacker in Clay Matthews.
The Ravens saw a large turnover on the defensive side of the ball following their Super Bowl victory last season, most notably losing linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement and safety Ed Reed in free agency. That left the 30-year- old Suggs as the leader of the unit and he has responded with a solid season so far.
Looking to hold off the Miami Dolphins for a much-needed road win last Sunday, Suggs came up with three fourth-quarter sacks, giving the defense six on the day, and the Ravens kept their grip on a 26-23 victory.
Suggs has logged seven sacks this season and Baltimore ranks second in the NFL with 19 as a team.
"We do a lot of reps in practice, so you have to be in tremendous shape," Suggs said. "We knew coming down here (to Miami) it was going to be a little hot, a little sticky. Hydration was also a big key. It's all part of playing Ravens football."
Baltimore's endurance helped it overcome a 13-6 deficit at halftime. Justin Tucker hit four field goals, with his 44-yarder with 1:42 remaining serving as the game-winner.
Joe Flacco completed 19-of-32 passes for 269 yards and running back Ray Rice finished with 74 yards on 27 carries with a pair of touchdowns for the Ravens, who were coming off a 23-20 loss at Buffalo and won on the road for the first time in three tries this season.
After picking up the road victory, the Ravens will try to extend their home winning streak over the NFC to 14 straight games dating back to the 2006 season. They have allowed just 15 points in their two victories in Baltimore this season and have won 26 of their last 29 regular-season home games under head coach John Harbaugh.
Baltimore will now try to keep Green Bay from picking up its first road win of the 2013 season. The Packers have split their first four contests, picking up two victories at home while suffering road setbacks to San Francisco and Cincinnati.
Green Bay had its bye week following a 34-30 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22, but bounced back with a dominating 22-9 win over the visiting Detroit Lions last Sunday.
Mason Crosby hit five field goals to tie a single-game franchise record, while Aaron Rodgers threw for 274 yards. That included an 83-yard touchdown pass to James Jones, who ended with four catches for 127 yards.
Running back Eddie Lacy was also solid in Green Bay's ninth straight victory at home and 23rd straight at Lambeau Field versus Detroit, rushing for 99 yards.
"This was a good division victory for us in front of the home crowd," said Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. "Coming off the bye week we wanted to come out with a strong effort, and I think we had that here today. Would have been nice to find the end zone a little more, but I thought we did an excellent job on defense."
Green Bay totaled 449 yards, while Detroit had just 286. Linebacker Nick Perry had two sacks and Matthews added five tackles and one sack, but suffered a broken thumb in the contest.
Matthews had three sacks in four games this year after logging 13 a season ago despite missing four games with a hamstring injury. His latest injury will sideline him for "multiple weeks" according to McCarthy.
"Clay Matthews is our best player on defense, but this is pro football. We've been down this road before," said McCarthy. "It's an excellent opportunity for others to step up and make plays and be part of packages as we get ready for an excellent Baltimore Ravens football team."
Green Bay has won three of its four meetings with the Ravens, including a 27-14 victory in the last encounter on Dec. 7, 2009 at home. Matthews had two sacks in that game.
The Ravens have won the only previous game between the clubs in Baltimore, a 48-3 rout on Dec. 19, 2005.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Packers have been excellent versus the run this season, giving up just 86 yards per game to rank fifth in the NFL. They have struggled, though, against the pass, yielding 288.8 YPG and lost a big part of their pass rush in Matthews.
Mike Neal is likely to join Perry as the outside linebackers and both are coming off solid games. Perry had five tackles and forced a fumble versus the Lions in addition to his two sacks, while Neal had a sack and made two of his six tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"We're going to miss Clay. Clay brings a lot of stuff to the table, but I think people get so caught up in Clay's ability to make plays, that everybody else just has to play their game," said Neal. "We're not going to be able to mimic what clay does, but we control what we do. As long as we do that, we'll be fine."
With Flacco having been picked off five times in the Week 4 loss to the Bills, the Ravens wanted to get the run game going versus the Dolphins and Rice had a season-high 27 rush attempts despite a nagging hip injury that held him out of action in Week 3.
There is no doubt that Rice alters how defenses can play Flacco as is also dynamic in the passing game. He had six catches versus the Dolphins, while wideout Torrey Smith made six grabs for 121 yards. That made him the first Raven since Qadry Ismail in 1999 to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.
Baltimore was shorthanded in the receiving department last weekend with Jacoby Jones again out with a knee injury and Marlon Brown inactive because of a thigh issue. Jones, who was hurt in Week 1, was limited in practice again on Wednesday, a status he held all of last week, while Brown and Brandon Stokley (thigh) were also limited.
Suggs has matched a club record by recording a sack in five straight games, tying the mark set by Adalius Thomas (2005, '06) and Paul Kruger (2012). He knows the Ravens' defense, which ranks 14th overall in the NFL, faces a tough challenge this weekend with Rodgers, but the surging Green Bay ground game can't be ignored either.
The Packers totaled 180 yards on 33 carries versus the Lions, marking the first time the franchise has run for at least 135 yards in three straight games since 2006.
Lacy, meanwhile, fell one yard shy of becoming the third straight different running back to reach 100 yards rushing in a game.
"A little bit (frustrating), but you know, 99 yards, that's still positive," said Lacy of just missing the mark. "It's a long season. We have a long road ahead of us, so we'll get there eventually."
Green Bay ranks fifth overall in rushing at 141.0 yards per game, the first time it has ranked in the top five on the ground at any point in the season since finishing the 2003 campaign with the third-ranked ground attack.
An increased ground presence can only make Rodgers move dangerous, especially down the field. His 83-yard scoring throw to Jones last week was his 12th career TD pass of 70-plus yards.
"He does it his way. He's got his own unique style," Harbaugh said of Rodgers. "He's great in the pocket. As you said, he's accurate, [and] he gets the ball out very quickly. He's great on the move. He can move to run, but he really moves to throw. Those guys do a great job of uncovering downfield."
Baltimore, though, ranks just behind Green Bay in defending the run, giving up 89.8 yards per game, and can certainly bring pressure on Rodgers. In addition to Suggs' efforts last weekend, linebackers Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw and Pernell McPhee also notched sacks.
"It's a very good defense, and it's been a very good defense for decades," McCarthy said of the Ravens. "Terrell Suggs is a big part of that. He's a premier pass rusher; I like all their pass rushers. They've got Suggs, Dumervil and Upshaw. They have very good depth there. It's a big, physical defensive line, an athletic back end. This will be a big challenge for our offense."
While left tackle Eugene Monroe, acquired last week from Jacksonville, did not play versus Miami as he continues to learn the offense, A.Q. Shipley saw rare action at left guard when Kelechi Osemele was forced out due to back spasms.
Osemele could return this weekend as he practiced on Wednesday, but it is unknown if Monroe will get the call over Bryant McKinnie at left tackle.
"It's something that's a work in progress right now," Harbaugh said of working Monroe in. "We're in the middle of it. Since the minute he got here, it's been very hard work trying to get him up to speed on the offense, so we'll know it when we see it. We'll practice this week. We'll see how it looks."
An already dangerous offense could get more deadly if McCarthy can stick to the run game. Forcing the Ravens to move more guys into the box will only open things up for Rodgers, who can nullify the pass rush with his quick release.
The Ravens have been a better defensive team at home than on the road and the absence of Matthews should make Rice a factor, but Green Bay should be able to handle the inconsistent Flacco even without its best defender.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 23, Ravens 17
10/10 14:42:43 ET