Ravens Need To Get To Rodgers

December 07, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley , jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As the Ravens try to take another step toward the NFL playoffs, the biggest obstacle standing in their way tonight is the Green Bay Packers' offensive line.

The blueprint for the Ravens (6-5) to improve their standing in the AFC wild-card race couldn't be much clearer: The defense has to take down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers is sacked six or more times, the Packers are 0-4. When he is sacked less often than that, Green Bay is 7-0.

So, what will be left standing by night's end at Lambeau Field - Rodgers or the Ravens' playoff hopes?

"Obviously, [Rodgers] has a ton of talent. You don't want to make it a seven-on-seven game," said linebacker Jarret Johnson, who leads the Ravens with six sacks. "So, getting pressure is one of the key factors."

It won't be easy.

Terrell Suggs, who has a sprained ligament in left knee, did not travel with the team to Green Bay, the Ravens confirmed Sunday night.

A woman in Baltimore obtained a temporary restraining order against Suggs on Friday after filing a domestic violence complaint.

With the Denver Broncos (8-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5) - the two leaders in the AFC wild-card race - both winning, the Ravens need to win to keep pace.

Johnson acknowledged that having a "must-win" game every week wears on a team.

"We kind of did it to ourselves," Johnson said. "We started out 3-0 and then we dropped three in a row to put ourselves in a bad spot. From then on out, you've got to fight to stay above water."

Even though Green Bay has allowed the most sacks in the NFL (44), there are no guarantees that the Ravens will put down Rodgers.

The Ravens haven't recorded a sack in their past two games (against the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers). Their drought spans 60 pass attempts.

"We've gotten pressure," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think we've forced quick throws at times. We'd love to get sacks. We need to keep working on that."

The Ravens haven't had a sack since they've been without Suggs, but his absence isn't the only reason. Few teams get to Indianapolis' Peyton Manning because of his quick release. The Steelers limited the Ravens' chances with quick-hitting routes and maximum protection for young quarterback Dennis Dixon.

"I don't think sacks are the stat that equates a good or bad pass rush," Johnson said. "I think good hits and pressures are the same as a sack to me."

Pressure from the Ravens' defense (a cornerback blitz by Domonique Foxworth) led to Paul Kruger's key interception in a 20-17 overtime win over Pittsburgh.

But the Ravens have just three quarterback hits the past two games. Through 11 games, the Ravens have 21 sacks, which is tied for the seventh-fewest in the NFL. Johnson and Trevor Pryce (five sacks) have accounted for more than half that total.

"I think we're getting closer to getting sacks," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said.

The Ravens' sack drought comes at a time when Green Bay is solidifying its pass protection.

Through the first nine games, injuries forced the Packers to use six different starting offensive-line combinations. Rodgers was sacked 41 times.

In the past two games, Green Bay has used the same starting line: left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard Daryn Colledge, center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Mark Tauscher. Rodgers has been sacked just three times in that span.

"The linemen are good," Pryce said. "I think a lot of it is Rodgers is taking some time making his reads."

The Ravens know they can't be overaggressive or the NFL's third-rated passer will hurt them with more than his arm.

When the Ravens watched film, one aspect of Green Bay's offense that surprised them was Rodgers' ability to get out of the pocket and avoid pressure.

He's no Michael Vick. But he's not Manning, either.

"The thing that I've noticed about him is he scrambles with toughness," Mattison said. "You see some guys that scramble, and they're going to try to find a place and slide. He's always trying to pick up extra yards. He plays like a hungry quarterback. If he sees an opening, he's going to take off running and get whatever he can get."

The Ravens have to track him down, but doing so can't take away from their primary goal - getting a much-needed win.

"I think everybody else can get caught up in that," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "I just think we have to go in there expecting to play the Green Bay Packers and not expecting to say, 'Oh, they're giving up all these sacks,' because that stuff will get you in trouble."


When: Tonight, 8:30

TV: ESPN, Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Packers by 3 1/2

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