Week 11 Preview: Packers Take on Ravens With 2017 Season in the Balance

Historically, Mike McCarthy’s teams have responded well when pushed to the breaking point.

In 2016, the team was all but dead at 4-6 before reeling off six straight wins and running the table for an NFC North title.

Likewise, in 2013 McCarthy’s Packers languished for nearly a month without Aaron Rodgers before Matt Flynn helped pull the season back from the brink. His efforts came just in time for Rodgers to return and strike down the Bears in Chicago.

Most notably, the Packers fell to within a game of elimination in 2010 before obliterating the Giants in Week 16 and squeaking out a win in Chicago in Week 17 to start their Super Bowl run.

This season, the Packers have nearly used up all their margin for error. At 5-4, they rank third in the NFC North, well behind both division leader Minnesota and wildcard favorites Seattle and Carolina. If there’s a time to rally the troops, it’s now.

Though we’ve argued this week that losing may not be as hurtful as it seems, the Packers aren’t out of the playoffs just yet. There is a path forward, albeit a narrow and rocky one. With Brett Hundley and the offense showing signs of life against Chicago, perhaps this is the week another back to the wall run begins for Green Bay.

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - Even with Brett Hundley taking over as the starting quarterback, the Packers have done a solid job of protecting the football. They’ve won the turnover battle in five of their last six games, maintaining a +8 advantage in that stretch. Continuing that stretch of success will be key, as the Ravens are one of the best teams in the league at creating takeaways and lead the entire NFL in interceptions.

2 - Jordy Nelson needs just one reception to move into third place all-time on the Packers’ career receptions leaderboard. Currently, he’s tied with James Lofton with 530.

3 - Packers have yet to record a sack in the fourth quarter. They’re the only team in the NFL to not have one.

4 - Though they may not have had a choice, the Ravens almost certainly have some buyer’s remorse about the giant contract extension given to Joe Flacco after he won Super Bowl MVP in 2012. Since that game, Flacco has completed just 62.7% of his passes and thrown 88 touchdowns against 71 interceptions. The Ravens are 33-34 in that stretch and have only returned to the playoffs once.

5 - The Packers and Ravens have some deep and obscure connections, so here are two quick ones. Current Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg was the Packers’ quarterback coach during their Super Bowl XXXI season. While he was with the Seahawks, Packers general manager Ted Thompson was part of the personnel group that brought current Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram to the team. Engram was teammates with Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett while they played for the Chicago Bears.

Who Could Be an X-Factor?

Jon says Jamaal Williams

As excited as I am to maybe, finally see Devante Mays on offense this week, Jamaal Williams is the real x-factor here. Aaron Jones could be out a month and a half, Ty Montgomery is banged up, leaving Williams as the only semi-known commodity in the Packers’ backfield. If Williams can put up a decent showing against a stout Baltimore defense, it will go a long way towards giving Brett Hundley and the rest of the offense a fighting chance.

Gary says Clay Matthews

Matthews has put together a solid, yet unspectacular year. It’s hard to pinpoint a handful of plays where Matthews has made a play seemingly by himself -- a staple of his play in years past -- but he’s improved his pass rush discipline and stayed within himself to avoid his common annual soft tissue injury. Given his counterpart Nick Perry’s success against the Bears last week, it can only help the Packers pass rush if Matthews is able to get home against Joe Flacco at least once in Sunday’s game.

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Ravens Played?

When Mike McCarthy talks about “uncommon opponents,” they don’t get much more uncommon than the Baltimore Ravens. In the entire time the Ravens have existed, they’ve only crossed paths with the Packers four times, the last time coming in 2013.

A bizarro version of the Packers took the field that day in Baltimore, with Aaron Rodgers struggling and the running game humming along. Rodgers finished with 312 yards, completed only 17 of his 32 attempts and managed just one touchdown against an interception. Rookie Eddie Lacy led a hard charging run game with 120 yards on 23 carries in the first breakout game of his Packers career.

The defense, meanwhile, did the Packers no favors, at least not through the air. Despite five sacks by the Packers (including three by A.J. Hawk!) Joe Flacco piled up 342 yards and two touchdowns, including plays of 63, 59, 45, and 31.

The story was different on the ground, though. The defense held Ray Rice (still a thing at the time) and Breshad Perriman to 43 yards on 20 combined carries and stood fast 4th-and-1 attempt from the Packers’ 1-yard line in the second quarter that may have ultimately been the difference in the game. The Packers prevailed 19-17.

Who’s Going to Win on Sunday?

Jon says Baltimore in a battle of struggling offenses.

It feels like we could see another ugly 19-17 final score in this game. Neither offense is particularly outstanding, and even if the Packers’ defense isn’t a world-beating unit, they do have a strong tendency towards forcing other offenses to maintain long, sustained drives to get any points. Baltimore’s defense, though, is legitimately elite, and I think that gives the Ravens an edge. Given that the Packers have struggled to consistently produce points, I think the uncommon opponent gets the win on Sunday.

Gary says the Packers pull it out late.

I’ve had a bit of a change of heart regarding this Packers team over the past ten days. Part of it may be the green-and-gold colored glasses I metaphorically wear, but I do wonder if the departure of Martellus Bennett has had an impact on “bringing the locker room together.” Hundley’s play against the Bears was his best performance to date, and the defense did a good job of taking away Chicago’s strengths. The Ravens are an all-or-nothing team. Consider their Week 3 loss to the Jaguars, 44-7 and a Week 8 win against the Dolphins by a score of 40-0. I don’t know what to make of Baltimore, so I’ll take Green Bay in a close one.

For Further Listening

This week on Blue 58, we tried our hand on a semi-controversial topic: the case for tanking. Losing may not actually be as bad for the Packers as it seems. Give our latest episode a listen and see if you agree.