1. Will momentum carry over- The Ravens were able to end their three game losing streak last Sunday against the division leading Bengals, so it begs the question whether that momentum will carry over for this team. Urgency appears to be at an all time high in Baltimore and it was apparent when the team gave up that last second hail mary and were able to shake that off and find a way to win. This is a different story, though, as the team has had road problems all season, especially quarterback Joe Flacco. The majority of his turnovers this year have come on the road and he will have to take care of the ball against a good Chicago defense. Flacco hasn’t been the only problem, as the defense has been unable to close out games on the road. We are getting later into the season and this seasoned team knows they can’t lose many more games. On the road or not, I expect this team to compete until the final seconds. They will win this game if their playmakers make the kind of plays in big moments like we saw last week.
2. Throwback defense- Last week we saw the type of defense we used to see from the Ravens when Ray Lewis was calling the shots and Ed Reed was roaming the back of the secondary. The defense made Andy Dalton look like a rookie all over again. They had constant pressure on him all day. Defensive Coordinator Dean Peas dialed up some nice exotic blitzes, especially blitzing cornerback Lardarius Webb from the slot, and we should expect to see that again this week. I’m most interested to see the secondary play this week. They had their best performance of the year last week. Cornerback Lardarius Webb was all over the field and it felt like he was finally healthy from his torn ACL. Former first round pick Jimmy Smith was also coming up with big plays, which was a nice sign coming from a guy who has all the talent in the world but just hasn’t been consistent. Safety James Ihedigbo recorded his first career interception last week and added another one later in the game. He has been a pleasant surprise for the team this year and regardless of his bonehead play at the end of the Bengals game, he has been a staple on the back end. They will be tested this week against some talented players like receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, as well as running back Matt Forte. Backup quarterback Josh McCown will be starting in place of Jay Cutler, and has shown he is more than capable of getting the job done, so this defense can’t take him lightly.
3. Pierce vs. Rice- It has become clear to pretty much the entire NFL that there is something wrong with Ray Rice. Whether it is an injury or the offensive line, things don’t look right. Coach John Harbaugh talked this week about going with the hot hand at running back and if previous play is any indication, than Bernard Pierce will receive the majority of the touches. Neither have been given a lot of room to run, but Pierce has made more plays out of nothing than Rice has this year. This is something to really keep a close eye on throughout the game Sunday.
4. Big day for special teams- The Chicago Bears have been known for having great special teams units over the past couple years, and even with coaching changes, they still have some of those pieces in tact. Coach Harbaugh’s area of speciality is in special teams, so you have to assume he is keeping a close eye on that group’s preparation this week. Bears return man, Devin Hester, is in a class of his own, and any time he touches the ball, he could take it the distance. It will be crucial that punter Sam Koch, who has been streaky this year, gets enough hang time under the ball, and if he does a directional kick, not to kick it out of bounds too early. Kicker Justin Tucker has a strong leg, and depending on the Chicago winds, needs to kick touchbacks to avoid Hester returns. I will say that last week, the coverage units looked the best they have all season, so hopefully that is a sign of things to come. They’ll need another performance like that to contain Hester.