NFL Preview - Baltimore (6-2) at Seattle (2-6)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Joe Flacco may have his critics, but the spectacular game- winning drive the Baltimore Ravens quarterback engineered against a bitter rival last weekend brought some more support over to his camp.
Things aren't going as well for Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
With both clubs at the halfway point of their respective schedules, Baltimore continues to look like the contender many thought it could be while Seattle is still searching for an identity that can produce some victories. The contrasting styles square off this Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
At 6-2, the Ravens are tied with Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North after Baltimore completed its two-game season sweep of Pittsburgh last Sunday. Both Baltimore and the Bengals are a half-game ahead of the Steelers and will meet next weekend in Maryland.
The Bengals are hosting the Steelers this weekend.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, find themselves just 2-6 after a third straight loss last weekend in Dallas and are five games off the pace in the NFC West.
Flacco emerged from hostile Heinz Field on Sunday a hero, overcoming several dropped passes by his receivers to finish of a 92-yard game-winning march capped with a 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith with eight seconds left. The drive, which featured key drops by both Smith and Anquan Boldin, gave Flacco 300 yards passing on the day and featured his only scoring throw of the game.
"[Ravens-Steelers] is a game for men. No one shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game," an energized Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh said of his starting quarterback.
The victory gave the Ravens a series sweep over the Steelers for just the second time ever and marked Flacco's second straight game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. He also helped Baltimore rally from 21 points down the previous week to beat the Arizona Cardinals.
Flacco's eighth career game-winning march helped to further wash the bitter taste of an ugly 12-7 setback to Jacksonville on Oct. 24. Baltimore is now in position to begin a season 7-2 for just the second time in club history, joining the 2006 squad.
Seattle, meanwhile, continues to stumble after a big win over the New York Giants on Oct. 9. The Seahawks went on the bye the following week and have proceeded to score just 28 points over their three-game slide since.
The 'Hawks found themselves even with the Cowboys at halftime last weekend following four combined field goals by the clubs, but a host of penalties and three Jackson interceptions in the second half allowed Dallas to roll to a 23-13 win.
Seattle, which has not led a game at the half this season, is now in danger of losing four in a row for the first time since it closed out a 5-11 campaign in 2009 with four consecutive defeats.
"We're really disappointed with where we are," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of hitting the midway point. "We thought we could be better, of course. I don't know any other way to think. But it doesn't matter. Now it's about going back to it and seeing if we can put together games that give us a chance to get some momentum going on the field."
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch tried to give his team momentum with a season-high 135 yards rushing, but the Seahawks defense, which came into the game allowing a league-low 3.2 yards per carry, gave up 6.3 per attempt to the Cowboys.
The Ravens and Seahawks have opposed one another three times in the past, with Baltimore taking the first two matchups between the teams prior to Seattle's 27-6 home triumph back in 2007. That game was Baltimore's only previous visit to CenturyLink Field, with the Ravens besting the Seahawks at the since- demolished Memorial Stadium in 1997 (31-24) and coming out on top in a 44-41 overtime thriller at M&T Bank Stadium in 2003.
Carroll is 1-0 against the Ravens for his career, with that win a 20-3 home decision in 1999 while then in charge of the New England Patriots. Harbaugh will be taking on the Seahawks and Carroll for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
With running back Ray Rice (532 rushing yards, 38 receptions, 8 total TD) getting shut down to the tune of just 43 rushing yards on 18 carries, Flacco (2051 passing yards, 9 TD, 6 INT) attempted 47 passes and completed 28 of them against Pittsburgh, while shaking off three James Harrison sacks. His 300-yard effort tied him for the club record of eight such games, first set by Vinny Testaverde. The Ravens are seventh in the league with an average of 26.0 points per game and Rice has a lot to do with that. He did score a rushing touchdown versus the Steelers, caught five passes for 43 yards and had a 76-yard touchdown run on the game's first drive called back due to holding. Rice is averaging 118.5 yards per game from scrimmage this year. Boldin (41 receptions, 2 TD) was targeted a team-leading 10 times by Flacco and made seven catches for 88 yards. He leads the NFL with 26 receptions and 405 yards over the past four games and has plenty of experience versus the Seahawks, having spent the majority of his career with the division-rival Cardinals. He averages 91.6 yards per game in 10 career contests versus Seattle. Smith (20 receptions, 4 TD), meanwhile, ended with five catches for 71 yards and is second among NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns. Tight end Dennis Pitta (21 receptions) finished with five passes caught totaling 46 yards last week. He forms a dual threat with Ed Dickson (30 receptions, 1 TD) at the position.
The Seahawks' run defense has some curious numbers, as it is now giving up only 3.43 yards per carry but still ranks just 13th in the league with 110.4 yards allowed per game. Dallas' 163 yards on the ground a week ago did little to help those numbers as well. Seattle is big up front with right defensive end Red Bryant (17 tackles) lining up next to tackles Brandon Mebane (27 tackles) and Alan Branch (17 tackles, 1 sack). Fellow end Chris Clemons (21 tackles, 5 sacks) has five sacks in his last seven games, but Seattle did not get to Dallas quarterback Tony Romo once a week ago. That put a lot of pressure on inexperienced corners Brandon Browner (32 tackles, 1 INT) and rookie Richard Sherman (20 tackles, 1 INT), who did force a fumble in the loss. Free safety Earl Thomas (55 tackles, 1 INT) and middle linebacker David Hawthorne (54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) led the team with eight tackles each against Dallas and safety Kam Chancellor (50 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) added five. Chancellor has three picks, a forced fumble and a recovery over his last five games. Seattle is giving up 23.1 points per game and is tied for 23rd overall with a minus-5 turnover differential. Clemons has four sacks in his last six games versus the AFC.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Seattle did manage 381 yards of offense versus the Cowboys, its third-highest total of the season. Still, the Seahawks rank only 29th in total offense (296.1 ypg), 30th in rushing (88.3 ypg) and are 28th in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Despite the poor rushing numbers, Lynch (398 rushing yards, 4 TD) has a touchdown in four straight games and looks to be hitting a groove after his best game of the season resulted in an average of 5.9 yards on 23 carries last week. Jackson (1556 passing yards, 6 TD, 9 INT) could certainly use the help on offense after struggling versus the Cowboys. He threw for 221 yards and was sacked only once without a touchdown throw, but the club was undone by his three second-half interceptions. Wide receiver Sidney Rice (27 receptions, 1 TD) was targeted eight times, but managed to pull in just three of those for a team-leading 69 yards, while Mike Williams (12 receptions, 1 TD) also grabbed three passes for 41 yards. Rookie Doug Baldwin (28 receptions, 2 TD) finished with three catches in the loss and leads all NFC rookies in receptions. He is also second among the conference freshmen with 434 yards.
This clash is definitely a mismatch on paper, with the Ravens ranking second overall in total defense (279.4 ypg), third versus the rush (86.8 ypg) and fifth against the pass (192.6 ypg). Baltimore is also only giving up 16.3 points per game, second-best in the NFL, and owns a turnover differential of plus-four. Though the Ravens got just once sack last weekend, they are still second the league with 26 on the season and have forced an NFL-best 14 fumbles. Baltimore's 3-4 scheme features a host of talent at the linebacker spots, led by Ray Lewis (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) in the middle. Terrell Suggs (34 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 INT) also excels at rushing the passer from the outside and grabbed an interception last weekend, while fellow outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (31 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is just two tackles shy of becoming the eighth player in team history to reach 500. Corner Lardarius Webb (44 tackles, 2 INT) made six tackles last week and of course is helped by future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed (31 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT). Strong safety Bernard Pollard (38 tackles, 1 sack) can also dish out a big hit when needed and led the club with seven tackles versus the Steelers. Reed, meanwhile, still needs just 20 interception return yards to break the NFL's all-time record held by Rod Woodson (1,483).
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Ravens certainly don't play down to their competition. They are 20-3 versus teams with sub-.500 records under Harbaugh, though two of those setbacks did come this year to an 0-1 Tennessee club and 1-5 Jacksonville.
The Seahawks shouldn't count on getting out to an early lead, which is unfortunate for Jackson and Lynch. Baltimore has yet to allow a point on an opponent's opening drive this season and its 13 first-quarter points allowed is the fewest given up in the NFL.
Lynch seems to be hitting his stride and Carroll doesn't want to shy away from giving him the ball, even against a tough Baltimore defense. It will be on veteran left guard Robert Gallery to get his young linemates -- Russell Okung, John Moffitt and James Carpenter -- ready to face the swarming Ravens.
Carroll said he is disappointed on where the Seahawks are at right now, so one has to wonder just how he will be feeling on Monday after this tough game. Baltimore's defense is primed to punish Jackson into mistakes all day, meaning containing Lynch will be the key to a blowout victory. The Ravens' offense has been inconsistent at times, but Flacco has performed well over the past few weeks and should be in for another good game against Seattle's young secondary. Expect both teams to continue to in the directions they were headed in prior to this meeting.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 31, Seahawks 13
11/10 18:03:51 ET