Credit Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman with a lot of things this season. From getting a veteran team to buy in to a new system after losing a coach they had known almost their entire career to converting an offense that continually ranked at the bottom of the league into a respectable NFL offense, Trestman has had plenty to be proud of half way through this season.
One of those things is that he has kept his Bears team together under some of the toughest adversity an NFL team could face, looking at star players pop up on the injury list week after week. Quarterback Jay Cutler is out this week with the second injury of the season. Tight end Martellus Bennett is questionable. Lance Briggs, who was in charge of leading the defense, is out. Cornerback Charles Tillman is out for at least the regular season. And yet, the Bears still are in the playoff picture, albeit looking up and needed some help.
The Bears can begin by helping themselves out this week when they face another team in a similar situation, as the Baltimore Ravens come to town. The Ravens have been a team that has struggled this season, directly led by the inability for the offense to find any rhythm to this point in the season. With the increase in pay for quarterback Joe Flacco in the offseason, the Ravens moved wide receiver Anquan Boldin. They then lost tight end Dennis Pitta to injury, have had injuries on their offensive line, and have had others on the line who have just flat out been bad.
According to profootballfocus.com, Ravens left guard A.Q. Shipley has a -14.7 grade, lowest amongst the Ravens lineman. Center Gino Gradkowski isn’t too far behind, with a grade of -13.3. The poor play of the line has led to intense pressure on Flacco, and is a large reason why neither running back of the Ravens has been able to get anything going.
On 115 attempts this season, Ray Rice has just 289 yards, good for a 2.5 yards per carry average. Backup Bernard Pierce hasn’t had much more success, running for 261 yards on 93 attempts, good for a 2.8 yards per carry average. It isn’t hard to see why the Ravens rank last in the league in yards per carry.
But watching the Ravens, there is just a feeling that they are about to get it together. It starts with the defense, who has very quietly been putting together a fantastic year. Baltimore has been great at stopping the run this season, ranking tenth in the league in rushing yards against. They have been even better in the red zone, allowing just one rushing touchdown on the season.
Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have both been extremely productive at their positions, combining for 17.5 sacks so far. With Jordan Mills status for Sunday’s game in question, the Bears offense line, which is on pace to give up more QB hurries and pressures than they did last season, could be in some trouble against a terrific pass rush.
Following the Bears, the Ravens have three games at home. Their opponents include; the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Minnesota Vikings. What that means is over their next four games, the Ravens have four very winnable matchups. Three wins in those four games, and we may be looking at a team who finally clicked offensively and has a defense to match up with just about anyone. Let me remind you that the top two teams in that division right now are the Cincinnati Bengals, who the Ravens just defeated, and the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals may have a two game lead, but the Ravens final game of the season will be a matchup against them. Don’t look now, but a win against the Bears could propel the Ravens into playoff contention. Safe to say neither team can afford a loss, which likely keeps them out of any realistic playoff contention.