The teams: The Green Bay Packers (2-2) vs. the Baltimore Ravens (3-2).
The time: Noon CDT Sunday.
The place: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston in the booth and Tony Siragusa on the sideline.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 82-44 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. The Ravens’ John Harbaugh is 66-32 (including 9-4 in the postseason) as coach of the Ravens and as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 3-1, including the last meeting, a 27-14 victory at Lambeau Field on Dec. 7, 2009. The Ravens won the lone meeting in Baltimore in 2005, when star quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a rookie backup.
The rankings: The Packers’ third-ranked offense is No. 5 in rushing and No. 4 in passing. Their 19th-ranked defense is No. 5 against the run and No. 26 against the pass. The Ravens’ 21st-ranked offense is No. 27 in rushing and No. 14 in passing. Their 14th-ranked defense is No. 6 against the run and No. 16 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 2.5 points.
The injury report:
Packers – Out: LB Brad Jones (hamstring), LB Clay Matthews (thumb), RB James Starks (knee), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), G Greg Van Roten (foot). Questionable: CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring). Probable: DT Ryan Pickett (hand), LB Andy Mulumba (ankle), LB Sam Barrington (hip).
Ravens – Doubtful: DT Terrence Cody (knee). Questionable: LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DT Haloti Ngata (hip), C Ryan Jensen (foot), CB Chykie Brown (thigh), WR Marlon Brown (thigh), WR Jacoby Jones (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (back), RB Bernard Pierce (thigh), DT Marcus Spears (knee), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Red zone blues: What’s troubling about the Packers’ offense, despite gaudy statistics that has them in the top 10 in both rushing and passing and No. 3 overall in total yards (and third in the league in points per game at 29.5) is that the group still doesn’t seem to be clicking – a scary thing for the Ravens and other upcoming opponents if the Packers can put their collective finger on what’s ailing them.
One reason for that feeling: Limited production inside the red zone, opponents’ 20-yard lines. No team has been better than the Packers in the red area since 2008, when Aaron Rodgers took over as the Packers’ starting quarterback, and the standard is so high that even a mild dip is cause for discussion.
While it’s unrealistic to think the Packers can hit Rodgers’ target success rate – “It’s 100 percent,” he joked at his locker Wednesday – certainly the group believes it should be doing better than its 56.3 touchdown conversion rate this season, which ranks the Packers 13th in the 32-team league.
“It’s been disappointing. It’s actually something we talked about over the bye week,” McCarthy said. “To me, it’s football. I don’t think it’s anything we’re doing that we need to change. Sometimes you’re extremely effective down there, which we’ve been. The good thing is that we’re getting down there. I don’t know where we rank in the league because some teams have one more game, but I would think we’re pretty high in the red zone as far as getting down there. As long as we keep getting our attempts, I’m very confident we’ll score touchdowns.”
Last season, the Packers were No. 3 in the league at a 68.1 percent conversion rate. With Rodgers at quarterback and McCarthy calling the plays, the Packers are an NFL-best 61.3 percent on touchdowns since the start of the 2008 season. They even started this year like gangbusters, going 4 for 4 on red-zone touchdown conversions in the regular-season opener at San Francisco.
But on their first drive against Washington in Week 2, the Packers had first-and-goal at the Redskins’ 9-yard line and promptly got Rodgers sacked on back-to-back plays, forcing them to settle for a Mason Crosby field goal.
That was the theme last week, too, as the Packers were 0 for 2 on red-zone trips and settled for five Crosby field goals. Crosby is a perfect 9 for 9 on the season, but while that’s good news for a kicker who struggled last season, it’s indicative of the Packers’ red-zone shortcomings. Another concern: Four of Rodgers’ 11 sacks through four games have been in the red zone, including three inside an opponent’s 10-yard line.
“(We) definitely have to improve in that area, especially when you’re playing real good football teams, you have to get seven points and make it easier on your defense and really change the momentum of games by getting into the end zone there,” Rodgers said. “It’s a tough opponent for us this week, a tough challenge and we need to make sure we help our defense out.”
Feat of Clay: Speaking of that defense, unless you’ve been participating in some sort of news media/social media blackout, you are well aware that Matthews, the Packers’ four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, will miss at least three to four weeks with a broken thumb he suffered last Sunday against Detroit. What you don’t know is whether or not the Packers’ starting outside linebackers in his stead – converted defensive end Mike Neal and 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry – can get the job done while he’s sidelined. You don’t know, because the Packers don’t know, either. But, there were at least encouraging signs against the Lions, as Neal had a sack and six tackles (including three at or behind the line of scrimmage) and Perry had a pair of sacks and five overall tackles.
“We’re going to miss Clay,” Neal acknowledged. “Clay brings a lot of stuff to the table. But I think that people get so caught up in Clay’s ability to make plays (that they forget) everybody else has got to play their game. We’re not going to be able to mimic what Clay does, but we can control what we do, and as long as we do that, we’ll be fine.
“For me, honestly, I get a joy out of playing with Clay even when I was inside, we were able to make things happen when we were out there. He helps me out a lot, but I know the things that Clay will tell me when I’m out there and I’ll just be able to carry that onto the field on Sunday, and I’ll be fine.”