Lions vs. Ravens preview: Keep pace in wild-card chase
James Hawkins of The Detroit News breaks down Sunday’s Lions-Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium (1 p.m. Fox/WJR 760).
RAVENS TO WATCH
Eric Weddle, S: The 11-year veteran roams in the back end of the secondary and helps anchor Baltimore’s second-ranked passing defense. Weddle is as smart and savvy as they come, and his ability to anticipate throws makes him a pest. He’s tied for third in the NFL in interceptions (three), and ranks second on the team in passes defensed (10) and third in tackles (49).
Alex Collins, RB: The second-year pro shares touches with Danny Woodhead and Javorius Allen, but is by far the top option. Collins leads the team with 630 yards rushing and his 4.9 yards per carry average ranks sixth in the league. He has also scored the past two games and become more of a target in the passing game in recent weeks.
Justin Tucker, K: The two-time All-Pro is one of the top special teams weapons in the league and is as reliable as they come. Tucker is 23-for-26 on field goal attempts this season, with just one miss from inside 50 yards and a long of 57. He has yet to miss an extra point attempt in six seasons and is allowing a career-low 19.3 yards on kickoff returns.
More: Rogers: Lions’ run game overdue for an overhaul
More: Special teams likely to play big role for Lions, Ravens
■ Stay in the chase: The Lions still have a playoff pulse but are walking a tightrope and running out of time. They trail the No. 6 seed Falcons by one game and the No. 5 seed Panthers by two in the wild card, but are on the wrong end of the tiebreaker and need to leapfrog them in total wins. It all starts by taking care of business in Baltimore, where a potential loss would push Detroit’s postseason hopes to the verge of flatlining.
■ Fire out the gate: Sluggish starts on both sides of the ball have plagued the Lions the past three games and it finally caught up with them last week against the Vikings. They’ve been outscored 33-3 in the first quarter during the three-week span and left digging out of early double-digit deficits each time. It’s imperative they set the tone and show a sense of urgency right off the bat in a game that has win or go home type of implications.
■ Local flavor: There will be a smattering of familiar names flying around on Baltimore’s defense. Former Wolverines Chris Wormley and Willie Henry both play reserve roles on the defensive line while ex-Grand Valley State products Brandon Carr and Matthew Judon start at cornerback and linebacker, respectively.
■ Shut down the run: It’s easier said than done considering Detroit’s struggles the past three weeks, but Baltimore’s offense isn’t much of a threat through the air. Neutralizing the ground game would force the Ravens to lean on Joe Flacco, who hasn’t been efficient this season. He has more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (nine) and has thrown for more than 250 yards just once this season, which came in a loss.
DETROIT LIONS SCHEDULE
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Marvin Jones ranks second in the NFL with five touchdown receptions of 20-plus yards.
■ Matt Prater joined Phil Dawson as the only kickers in league history to make at least seven field goals from 50-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.
■ Baltimore leads the league in turnover margin (plus-11) and interceptions (18). It also ranks second in points off takeaways (83) and points allowed per game (17).
■ Baltimore ranks 31st in total offense (281.1 yards) and third-down offensive percentage (31.8 percent), and last in passing yards (164.3).
■ The Lions are tied for fifth in the league in takeaways (19), ninth in turnover margin (plus-five) and have returned seven total touchdowns on defense and special teams.
■ The Ravens are 15-4 at home vs. the NFC since 2008.
■ The Ravens lead the all-time series, 3-1, and are 2-0 at home.