December 08, 2021


Analysis

Hub Arkush: Key matchups, players to watch and more for Bears vs. Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are a better football team than the Bears, there is no argument about that. But the better team has been losing at a surprisingly high rate in the NFL this season, and the Bears are a better team than the Miami Dolphins, who soundly beat the Ravens a week ago Thursday.

With one of the best offenses in the NFL, Baltimore is the No. 1 rushing team in the league but average at best on defense and the worst in the league against the pass, ranking 32nd in yards allowed and 29th in average gain per pass allowed.

The Bears are 5½-point underdogs, and the over/under is 44 ½.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

The trenches

Regardless of how special Lamar Jackson is, you can’t be the No. 1 rushing team in the league without solid offensive line play, but there is nothing special about LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ben Powers, C Bradley Bozeman, RG Kevin Zeitler (at this stage of his career) and RT Patrick Mekari. With Akiem Hicks out, Angelo Blackson, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Khyiris Tonga must fill their gaps all day long to give the Bears a chance.

On the flip side, the Ravens are fourth in the league against the run but below average rushing the passer, and if the Bears offensive line wins the day, and they run the ball, well, an upset is more than possible.

COACHING DECISION TO WATCH

How will Matt Nagy and defensive coordinator Sean Desai choose to attack Jackson?

There are two obvious options: blitz him off the field like the Dolphins did last week and hope for the best, which is quite out of character for Desai, or play them straight with Roquan Smith shadowing him all day, make sure every gap is filled on every play and trust Robert Quinn and company to provide constant pressure and get home more than a handful of times.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ravens RB Latavius Murray, TE Mark Andrews, WR Marquise Brown, LB Patrick Queen, CB Marlon Humphrey

Murray will hurt you if you’re not careful, as he did when he came to Soldier Field with the Saints two years ago and went off for 190 yards.

Andrews is Jackson’s security blanket and red-zone warrior. Brown is the home-run threat.

Defensively, Queen is the Ravens’ Roquan Smith clone, and Humphrey is really the only guy that scares you in the Baltimore secondary.

THE X-FACTORS

Ravens edge rushers Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee; Bears injuries

McPhee, of course, will be familiar to Bears fans. He and Houston, a former All Pro, are oldies but goodies on the backside of the hill. But the Ravens’ mediocre pass rush still counts on them to go off once in a while, and while Bears left tackle Jason Peters should be fine with them, keep an eye on rookie right tackle Larry Borom.

Injuries never are an excuse, but they are a problem. The news Friday that Khalil Mack is done for the year landed like a two-ton bomb on Bears fans and probably felt the same in the locker room.

WILD-CARD PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE

Ravens WR Devin Duvernay, OLB Odafe Oweh; Bears WRs Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd, OLBs Trevis Gipson, Cassius Marsh

Duvernay is a second-year wideout in a 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back’s body who has two TD receptions and will run jet sweeps and inside traps.

Oweh is this year’s 31st overall pick and to date has been the Ravens’ best pass rusher.

Goodwin and Byrd will have to surprise for the Bears to have any chance if Allen Robinson can’t contribute – I expect him to be inactive – and if ever there was a time for Gipson to arrive, it’s now.

THE FINAL WORD

Ravens 26, Bears 23

If it wasn’t for the bad news this week for the Bears, there would have been none at all. There are some matchups you might like, but injuries will be tough to overcome.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media