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Week 13 scouting report: Can Lions solve Ravens’ best defense in league?

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Can Matthew Stafford crack this tough Ravens defense to keep the Lions’ playoff hopes alive?

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions 2017 season is coming to a close, and in their final five games, they almost assuredly need to win at least four of them to play some extra football in January.

That quest begins on Sunday with a trip to Baltimore to face the Ravens. The Ravens have an identical 6-5 record, but their postseason outlook is much brighter. In the inferior of the AFC playoff picture, the Ravens actually hold the second wild card position at the moment. With their playoff destiny in their own hands, Baltimore must continue to win or they could be caught by one of the other mediocre teams in the AFC.

So which desperate team comes away with the victory this weekend? Let’s take a closer look at the Ravens.

Offseason recap:

Notable free agent additions: S Tony Jefferson, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Brandon Carr, RB Danny Woodhead, CB Brandon Boykin (IR), DT Brandon Williams, DB Lardarius Webb,

Notable free agent departures: WR Steve Smith Sr., ILB Zachary Orr, RT Rick Wagner, OLB Elvis Dumervil, FB Kyle Juszczyk, WR Kamar Aiken, FS Kendrick Lewis, CB Shareece Wright, DE Lawrence Guy, CB Jerraud Powers

Key draft picks:

  • CB Marlon Humphrey
  • OLB Tyus Bowser
  • OLB Tim Williams

2017 season results (6-5)

Week 1 - at Bengals - Won, 20-0
Week 2 - vs. Browns - Won, 24-10
Week 3 - at Jaguars - Lost, 7-44
Week 4 - vs. Steelers - Lost, 9-26
Week 5 - at Raiders - Won, 30-17
Week 6 - vs. Bears - Lost, 24-27 (OT)
Week 7 - at Vikings - Lost, 16-24
Week 8 - vs. Dolphins - Won, 40-0
Week 9 - at Titans - Lost, 20-23
Week 11 - at Packers - Won, 23-0
Week 12 - vs. Texans - Won, 23-16

Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:

The Ravens’ offense has been terrible this year. They’ve only scored over 24 points twice this season, and in both of those games, they were bolstered by a combined three defensive scores. In total, they’re averaging just 21.5 points per game, good for 18th. However, even that is likely bolstered by good defensive play. On a per play basis, no one is average fewer yards than the Ravens (4.4).

I know what you’re thinking: weren’t the Browns and Bears supposed to be a few of the worst offenses in the league, and didn’t they look more than competent against the Lions? It’s a fair point, especially when considering the Ravens’ offense is built much like those two teams: a poor passing game with an above average running game.

It was the running offenses that killed the Lions against those two teams, but the Ravens’ running game isn’t quite as good as either. While the Browns rank fifth in rush offense DVOA and the Bears rank 12th, the Ravens are just above the league average at 14th.

While youngster running back Alex Collins has given this run offense a boost (averaging 4.9 YPC), he has still only rushed for over 90 yards in a game once this season. He also hasn’t been as effective lately as he was early in the season.

First 5 games: 52 carries, 335 yards (6.4 YPC)
Last 5 games: 77 carries, 295 yards (3.8 YPC)

Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic:

That defense, though...

Per Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the Ravens have the best defense in the league. They’re allowing just 17.0 points per game (second), 4.8 yards per play (t-third) and have shut out three different teams this year.

The Ravens are good at stopping the run (10th in DVOA) but really earn their keep stopping the pass (second in DVOA). They rank first in passer rating allowed (65.9), fifth in yards per attempt allowed (6.5) and have a league-leading 18 interceptions on the year.

But there’s a caveat. The Ravens have faced a slew of horrible quarterbacks this year. Their biggest challenges have been Case Keenum and Ben Roethlisberger—and they lost both of those games. Football Outsiders breaks down why their No. 2 ranked pass defense may be a little over-inflated:

The Ravens would also rank among the dozen best pass defenses in DVOA history if the season ended today. Yes, there is an asterisk on that, because the Ravens have been lucky enough to face backup quarterbacks in a number of games. They've faced both Tom Savage and Brett Hundley, giving them a boost when the opponent adjustments for those teams are partially based on games with Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson. The Ravens also faced EJ Manuel instead of Derek Carr when they played Oakland.

That being said, this defense is still no joke. They can bring the heat on your quarterback. Their 30 sacks on the year rank t-ninth in the league, and it comes from several different sources. Six different players have at least 2.0 sacks on the year, with the eternally youthful Terrell Suggs leading the way—he has a total of 9.5 sacks this season.

Overall

On paper, this matchup looks almost identical to the games against the Browns and Bears. A good (but in this case, great) defense mixed with a horrible offense that’s somewhat capable of running the ball.

If that scares you, it should. The Lions may have beaten both the Browns and Bears earlier in the month, but it wouldn’t have happened without a fair amount of self-destruction from both teams. The Ravens aren’t immune to that (15 turnovers, 16th in the league), but they’re a better coached team than both of those franchises.

Still, there’s plenty of reasons to think the Lions can win this one. Their run defense was much improved last week against the Vikings and they’ll have another defensive line threat in Dwight Freeney this week. If Detroit can shut down Baltimore’s running game, it’s very hard to imagine Joe Flacco torching their secondary with an empty cupboard of receivers.

Additionally, the Lions present one of the bigger threats this Ravens teams has faced. Baltimore has yet to post a win against a team with a winning record, and Matthew Stafford will arguably be the best quarterback this team has faced all season.