4 Downs: Chicago Bears
Injuries have hit the Bears (5-4) hard as they head into Sunday’s game against the Ravens (4-5). No Jay Cutler (ankle). No Lance Briggs (shoulder). No Clarence Tillman (knee). No Jay Ratliff (groin).
Do the Bears still have enough to beat the Ravens? We will find out Sunday, and here are three key matchups to watch.
1. Bears running back Matt Forte vs. Ravens front seven.
The Ravens have only allowed one rushing TD all year. That’s’ the fewest in the NFL. However, Forte is going to put pressure on the Ravens’ front seven, both as a runner and as a pass catcher. The Ravens must make sure they pursue well, because the first person that hits Forte doesn’t always make the tackle. “He’s a big tall guy who can slash, put his foot in the ground, get vertical in a hurry, turn through guys,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. “Every time he gets tackled, if you watch him, he is falling forward. He has that kind of a body type and an excellent, excellent receiver out of the backfield.” Keeping Forte in check is priority No. 1 for the Ravens’ defense.
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2. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers vs. Ravens offensive line
Peppers is somebody the Ravens don’t want to awaken. He only has two sacks, after having at least 10 ½ sacks in four of the last five seasons. Look for Peppers to line up a lot opposite Ravens right tackle Michael Oher. Peppers may feel his best chance to hit Joe Flacco is to beat Oher, rather than dealing with Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe. However, the Bears may also run stunts with their defensive lineman, trying to cause blocking confusion for the Ravens’ offensive line. If Flacco has time to throw, he can do damage against the Bears’ secondary. But if Peppers gets rolling, he could make it a long afternoon for Flacco.
3. Bears receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey vs. Ravens secondary
This is one of the most dangerous duos the Ravens will face all season. Marshall is the star (60 catches, 786 yards), but Jeffrey (47 catches, 735 yards) is having a splendid season as well. Both are big and physical, looking to make productive runs after catches. Ravens corners Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are both dealing with groin issues, but they are expected to play. However, the secondary will have to work collectively to keep Marshall and Jeffrey from making game-breaking plays.