Game Breakdown: Bears at Ravens (12.20.09)

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Bears offense vs. Ravens defense
The Ravens have used the same formula to win games for much of the franchise’s existence in Baltimore. They want to run the football and play great defense and that’s exactly what has worked for them this season. Remember earlier this decade, particularly in his defensive player of the year season of 2005, when Brian Urlacher was compared in the same light to Baltimore’s Ray Lewis? Here we are in 2009 and at 31, some speak as though Urlacher’s days are just about over while there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the 34-year-old Lewis’ career. So much for that comparison. Lewis is still a destructive and inspirational force on the Ravens defense and his presence will surely be felt in this game. So much so that I fear for Jay Cutler’s and Matt Forte’s health. The Ravens have the No. 7 run defense and the No. 11 pass defense so it will be extremely difficult for the Bears to get anything going offensively. To neutralize the Ravens’ pass rush, and to make up for their poor rushing attack, the Bears once again will have to utilize their short passing game.
Advantage: Ravens

Bears defense vs. Ravens offense
The Ravens’ offense is not so much prolific as it is efficient. They don’t have big time playmakers that will scare defenders or give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. What they do have is a solid offensive line, an explosive little running back, and a young quarterback who takes what the defense gives him. Because they’re not flashy or possess quick-strike ability, the Bears’ best chance is to get a lead on the Ravens and take Ray Rice out of the ball game. The Baltimore running back is the ninth-leading rusher in the NFL and averages 5.4 yards per carry, second-highest in the league behind Tennessee’s Chris Johnson. What makes him so good is his ability to gain yards after contact. Despite standing just 5-foot-8, he weight 210 pounds and runs with great leverage. He’s difficult to bring down by a single tackler and can break through arm tackles. All bad signs for a defense that has long struggled with its tackling technique. Remember Ryan Grant’s 62-yard touchdown run last week in the Packers game? That’s more a rhetorical question; how can anybody forget it happening on the Packers’ first play of the game? That was Grant’s only run of more than 40 yards on the season. Rice has three of those as well as eight carries of more than 20 yards.
Advantage: Ravens

Special Teams
The Bears have been anything but spectacular on special teams this year but they still have the pieces in place necessary to win this phase of the game. Robbie Gould has missed just three field goals this year, two of which were blocked and the third was from beyond 50 yards. The Ravens, meanwhile, have had their problems at the kicker position. Their first kicker, Steven Hauschka, was cut after converting on just 69% of his field goals. The team has since brought in Billy Cundiff, who has converted on 9 of 11 kicks, but is anything but great. Baltimore punter Sam Koch has about a two-yard better net average than Brad Maynard but Maynard has pinned three more punts down inside the 20-yard line. Johnny Knox is third in the league with an average of 28.8 yards per kickoff return. That’s a smidge better than Baltimore’s Lardarius Webb. With Devin Hester out, Earl Bennett figures to get the punt return duty and we haven’t seen enough of him to evaluate him properly, but the Ravens’ Chris Carr is near the bottom of the league with just 7.3 yards per punt return. The Bears have struggled in blocking and coverage, but they still have the edge in the special teams phase.
Advantage: Bears

The Bears have nothing to play for in this game, but unlike most warm-weather teams who wilt and cower on a cold day like today, the Bears will do no such thing. I don’t expect them to quit on Lovie Smith and they have enough pride to treat this game as a playoff game. What they don’t have enough of is talent, and that’s ultimately a more necessary ingredient for success than effort is. We witnessed how Ryan Grant destroyed the Bears’ run defense last week and Grant is nowhere near the back that Rice is. I fear that if the Bears don’t gang-tackle, which has been a problem for them this year, that Rice will have a huge day. There’s no such thing as a weather advantage in this game but the Ravens do have the home crowd behind them. With a defense as stout as the Ravens have, the Bears have to play as efficient and error-free a game as they possibly can. And when was the last time we saw them do that?
Advantage: Ravens

Final Score: Baltimore 23, Chicago 17

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