Lions-Ravens: Opponent Scouting Report And Game Prediction

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The Ravens are already 1-2 this year against NFC North teams and Matt Stafford is the best quarterback in that division. 


WHAT: Week 13, Game 12 vs. Detroit Lions
WHEN: 1 p.m. (ET); Sunday, December 3
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium; Baltimore (71,008)
RECORDS: Lions, 6-5; Ravens, 6-5
LIFETIME SERIES (regular season): Ravens lead, 3-1; Ravens lead at home, 2-0
TV: WBFF-TV, Channel 45 (Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, booth; Peter Schrager, sidelines)
RADIO: WIYY-FM, 97.9 (Gerry Sandusky, Stan White, Justin Forsett)

REFEREE: Jerome Boger

About the Lions

The Lions have had a colorful, but barren, history. Their existence began in 1930 as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans before the franchise moved to Detroit in 1934. Since then, the Lions have made 18 playoff appearances and won eight division titles, but the team has had no first-place finishes since 1993 – none in the NFC North, which was formed in 2002 — and went through an 11-year playoff drought (2000-10) before notching three of its nine wild-card berths since 2011 (including playoff appearances after two of the last three seasons).

In the postseason, the Lions also have a feast-or-famine resume. The franchise has four NFL championships, but none since 1957, which is the second-longest current drought (Cardinals, last title was 1947). Detroit has just one playoff win since then, a 1991 wild-card blowout over Dallas, 38-6. Detroit has made only one NFC Championship Game appearance, in 1991, when it lost to Washington, 41-10. The Lions have had 20 Hall of Famers, but only one recent inductee, guard Dick Stanfel, who was nominated on the Senior ballot in 2016.

Detroit is the only NFC team in the current lineup of franchises to have never played in a Super Bowl. The Lions join Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Houston. Ironically, the Detroit area has hosted the big game twice–Super Bowl XVI (49ers-Bengals) took place at the now-defunct Pontiac Silverdome; and Super Bowl XL (Steelers-Seahawks) was held at the Lions’ current home, Ford Field, which opened in 2002.

The Lions and Baltimore Colts used to be fierce rivals in the Western Conference before the 1970 merger. The teams met a total of 34 times, splitting the series 16-16-2. The present-day Lions have never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore. The last win was in 1977, 13-10, at Memorial Stadium. The Lions scored when Leonard Thompson scored on a punt he blocked at game’s end.

Detroit will have had an extended post-Thanksgiving Day break before playing three road games in four weeks. The stretch starts this week with the Ravens. Detroit plays at Tampa Bay next Sunday and is on the road again in Cincinnati following a home game against the Bears.

Detroit is the franchise most associated with Thanksgiving, despite the fact that Thanksgiving games had already taken place in the NFL before the Lions began their tradition in 1934. The Colts’ last Thanksgiving appearance as a Baltimore team was in 1965 – they tied the Lions, 24-24 — and the Ravens have won twice on the holiday (2011, 2013).

Head coach Jim Caldwell (33-26, including playoffs) is the 26th man to hold the job. Caldwell first made his name as the head coach of Wake Forest University before becoming the Ravens’ offensive coordinator just before their 2012 Super Bowl run. In between those jobs, he head-coached the Indianapolis Colts, But while he was an assistant there, the team won Super Bowl XLI in Miami over Chicago under head coach Tony Dungy. He had ascended to the top job by the time the Colts played in Super Bowl XLIV, losing to New Orleans in Miami.

Noteworthy assistant coaches on Caldwell’s staff include DC and former Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin, senior defensive assistant and ex-Baltimore Colts assistant Gunther Cunningham, and special teams coordinator Joe Marciano, who held the same job with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the United States Football League (1983-85).

Through 11 games this year, Detroit is 15th in total offense (30th rushing, tenth passing, fifth scoring at 26.7 points per game) and 26th in total defense (24th vs. rush, 23rd vs. pass, 21st scoring). The Lions have the league’s tenth-best third-down defense, but the unit ranks 25th in the Eed Zone. Detroit isn’t very good inside the 20-yard line. It ranks 24th in touchdown percentage. By quarter, the Lions have been outscored in the first, 73-30, but have won the second period, 106-79, and the fourth, 101-44.

The Lions have a modest plus-5 turnover ratio, tied with several other clubs for the league’s fifth-best figure; Baltimore leads this category at plus-11. Detroit has recovered eight opponents’ fumbles, tied with the Ravens and Seattle for the league’s third-most. The Lions’ total of 19 takeaways is tied for the fifth-most in the league, but the team has lost eight fumbles, tied for the third-most. A particularly eye-opening stat is this: Detroit has “gone for it” on fourth down seven times and is 0-7 on those attempts.

On the penalty front, Detroit has committed 68 penalties, one more than Baltimore. The Lions have been called for holding 13 times–just three off the league lead– and have also been flagged for six defensive holding penalties and nine defensive pass interference calls, tied for the third-most. Defensive backs Nevin Lawson and Darius Slay have been caught three times each for pass interference. Center Graham Glasgow and tackle TJ Lang have been called for holding three times each.

Baltimore will go against nine-year pro Matthew Stafford, the 2009 top overall pick from Georgia, who is one of the league’s most prolific passers. His 97.3 passer rating is sixth among non-injured active starters. Stafford has thrown 21 touchdown passes with six interceptions while completing 62.5 percent of his passes. He has 11 touchdown passes that have traveled 20 or more yards, tying him with Josh McCown for the most in the league.

Stafford’s 7.6 yards-per-attempt figure is the league’s seventh-best. His total of 3010 yards is fifth-most. He has seven straight seasons of 3000 or more passing yards. Stafford’s 31 career game-winning drives are five more than the Ravens’ Joe Flacco. However, he has been sacked 36 times, the most for any NFC quarterback and second only to Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett (43).

Detroit has the league’s third-worst rushing attack. The team is averaging barely 3.3 yards per carry. Part of the reason is the team’s offensive imbalance, having run the ball 256 times and passed it on 431 occasions (including sacks allowed). Ameer Abdullah is the team’s leading rusher, but he has only 505 yards and three of the team’s rushing scores. It’s revealing that this team has only four total rushing TDs. The other go-to back, Theo Riddick, has gained just 161 yards. He’s more of a Danny Woodhead-type receiving threat.

Like most teams in the current pass-happy era, the Lions consider three receivers as starters. They include former Cincinnati Bengals standout Marvin Jones, ex-Notre Dame and Seattle Seahawks pass-catcher Golden Tate, and third-year receiver TJ Jones, who’s another Notre Dame product. Jones is second on the team with 44 catches, for a gaudy 16.6-yard average, and has eight of the team’s 21 receiving touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tate has hauled in 63 balls for an 11-yard average and three scores. TE Eric Ebron has 28 receptions, which is an 11-yard rate with two scores, and Jones has 24 catches for a 14-yard average. Riddick, who has caught 34 passes out of the backfield, also has two touchdowns.

Detroit is very young on the left side of its offensive line. Tackle Taylor Decker and Glasgow are both in only their second year in the league. Center Travis Swanson is in his fourth year. Right tackle and former Ravens starter, Rick Wagner, is a Wisconsin product in his fifth NFL season. He played out his four-year rookie deal with Baltimore and left as an unrestricted free agency. His former and current teammate, defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, is one of 12 Lions onIR.

The Lions have a deep defensive line rotation, headed by ends Anthony Zettel (team-high 6.5 sacks), Cornelius Washington, Ziggy Ansah, and the recently-acquired Dwight Freeney, whose 125.5 career sacks barely outstrip Terrell Suggs’ total of 124. A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence are the starting defensive tackles. Robinson has knocked down four passes at the line of scrimmage. Zettel and Washington lead the team with 13 and ten quarterback hits, respectively.

On the second level, two of the Lions’ three starting linebackers are the teams leading tacklers. They are outside linebacker Tahir Whitehead (74 total tackles, six for loss, career-high 13 tackles on Thanksgiving) and rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (56 tackles, tied for NFL rookie lead, three for loss). Delaware product Paul Worrilow is the other outside linebacker. The Lions’ defense is hampered by the fact that seven of its top 11 tacklers are defensive backs–and that’s not a good formula for shortening opponents’ drives.

Cornerback Darius Slay leads the Lions’ secondary with four of the team’s 11 interceptions and 15 pass breakups (second-most in the league). Safety Glover Quin, a former Houston Texan, is right behind with three pickoffs. Safeties Tavon Wilson and Quin are third and fourth on the team in tackles. Reserve cornerbacks Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, and DJ Hayden are also high on the tackle chart. Hayden, Quin and safety Miles Killebrew each have five pass breakups.

Detroit is one of the few teams that boast a kicking/special teams proficiency that rivals the Ravens. Nick Bellore and Don Carey are among the league’s best coverage-unit tacklers and Steve Longo (team-high eight special teams tackles) is the newest member of that unit. Rookie cornerback Jamal Agnew is the only punt returner in the league to have two runback touchdowns this year. His 16.8 punt-return average ranks him first ahead of the Ravens’ Michael Campanaro. On the downside, Agnew is averaging only 17.8 yards on kick returns.

Opposing field-goal kickers have had a rough time against Detroit. They’ve missed six kicks. That includes hitting the uprights with two and having two more blocked. The Lions have also blocked an extra point. Meanwhile, kicker Matt Prater (100 points) is 24-for-27 on field goals this year. Prater holds the NFL record with a 64-yard kick, which he booted four seasons ago. His 78.2 percent accuracy rate from 50 or more yards is the best in NFL history. Punter Sam Martin is netting only 39 yards per punt, but the punt-coverage team is allowing just 6.6 yards per return. Long snapper Don Muhlbach has played in 207 games since 2004, third on the team’s all-time list.

Prediction

Like Houston last week, the Lions come into Baltimore never having won at M&T Bank Stadium. But while Detroit has occasionally stumbled, they have been getting better offensively with solid quarterback play. The Ravens are already 1-2 this year against NFC North teams and Stafford is the best quarterback in that division.

Lions 27, Ravens 16

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About Joe Platania

Veteran beat writer, Joe Platania, is entering his 39th year in Baltimore media. He covers sports with insight, humor, and prescient eye. A former longtime member in good standing of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the Pro Football Writers of America, Platania manned the CFL Stallions beat for The Avenue Newspaper Group of Essex (1994 and ’95) and the Ravens beat since the team’s inception — one of only three local writers to do so — for PressBox, The Avenue, and other local publications and radio stations. A sought-after contributor and host on talk radio and TV, he often appears on “Inside PressBox” (10:30 a.m. Sundays) and he can be heard at 10 a.m. Saturdays on the “Purple Pride Report,” WQLL-AM (1370). He has also appeared on WMAR-TV’s “Good Morning Maryland” (2009), Comcast SportsNet’s “Washington Post Live” (2004-06), and WJZ-TV’s “Football Talk” postgame show — with legend Marty Bass (2002-04). Platania is the only sports journalist in Maryland history to have been a finalist for both the annual Sportscaster of the Year award (1998, which he won) and Sportswriter of the Year (2010). He is also a four-time Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association award winner. Platania is a graduate of St. Joseph’s (Cockeysville), Calvert Hall College High School, and Towson University, where he earned a degree in Mass Communications. He lives in Cockeysville, MD.



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