MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Lions look to get back on track vs. Ravens

Posted Dec 1, 2017

One of the NFL’s most immovable objects is squarely in the Lions’ path as they try to get their playoff run back on track.

One of the NFL’s most immovable objects is squarely in the Detroit Lions’ path as they try to get their playoff run back on track after one of the most disappointing losses of the season.

The Baltimore Ravens look as strong and tough as ever, and the fact that they’re in a playoff race themselves makes Sunday’s road game at M&T Bank Stadium all the more challenging for the Lions.

Both teams have 6-5 won-loss records, but their standing is different in their respective playoff races.

The Ravens currently are the sixth seed in the AFC and in position for the No. 2 wild card berth.

The Lions are the eighth seed in the NFC, with the Falcons and Seahawks both ahead of them – in that order based on tiebreakers -- at 7-4.

For the Lions, their formula with five games left boils down to win – and keep winning. Their situation became more critical because of a loss to the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Obviously, it’s very important for us to get going,” said Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr.

The Ravens showed in their win over the Houston Texans Monday night that they can win games with a dominating defense and an offense that relies on a running game that makes up for deficiencies in the passing game.

“Consistently week in and week out, day in and day out, just a thick, heavy-handed team,” said Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, speaking of the Ravens’ defense.

“They do a good job in the interior. They’ve got big, strong people. They do a great job of setting the edges, and it’s not just a matter of setting the edges.

“They try to crush the guy whoever's responsible for it. And their linebacking corps runs and hits you – and a very good secondary.”

Breakdown: The Lions cannot afford another slow start. The Ravens are too good on defense, and too prolific in creating turnovers. They lead the league in turnover differential at plus 11, and they’re No. 1 in takeaways (26) and interceptions (18), and fifth in sacks per play.

Those are drive-stopping, offense-strangling, game-changing stats. Because of them, the Ravens are seldom out of a game.

Prediction: The Ravens have issues of their own, namely on offense. That’s why they are slight favorites in a home game. It’s a game the Lions can win, but injuries are piling up, and the continuing inability to threaten in the run game gives the Ravens’ a chance to unleash their pass rush. That’s a critical advantage.

Ravens 20, Lions 19.

Series history: The two teams have met only four times since the franchise relocated from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996 and severed any historical ties to its identity as the Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens have a 3-1 series lead. They won the last meeting, 18-16, on Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in Game 14 of the 2013 season at Ford Field.

Lions focus – Jones catching on:  Every play counts against a defense as good as Baltimore’s, and big plays can count even more. 

Marvin Jones Jr. is moving up in important receiving categories by coming down with contested catches on big plays. One of those was a 43-yard touchdown catch in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving Day. 

Jones had to compete every yard of the way to the end zone on the play. He was double covered off the line of scrimmage by Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes, and jumped over them to snatch the ball thrown by Matthew Stafford out of the air at the 11-yard line.

Jones continued into the end zone for his second TD catch of the game. It was an important one for the Lions. It cut Minnesota’s lead to 27-23, but the Lions could not score again in an eventual 30-23 loss.

It was a highlight play that NFL.com ranked as No. 2 on their list of top catches of the week. Jones said he was not aware of that when asked by the media this week.

“I get numb to a lot of things,” he said. “It’s a good catch. We still have work to do. That’s something my kids get to watch and be fans of it.”

Asked when he knew he could make the catch, Jones answered: “When he threw the ball.”

Jones has eight TD catches, tied for second most in the league. DeAndre Hopkins of Houston has nine. Jones is tied for 38th in the league with 44 catches, but he’s 12th in receiving yards with 731 and his average of 16.6 yards per catch is third highest of receivers with 40 or more catches.

Ravens Focus – Suggs sizzles: It is not an exaggeration to say that at the age of 35 and in his 15th pro season Terrell Suggs is playing like a rookie. A case can be made that he is playing better than when he broke in with the Ravens in 2003 as their first-round draft pick and the 10th pick overall.

Suggs has started all 11 games and leads the Ravens with 9.5 sacks. He has four forced fumbles and three passes defensed. As a rookie, Suggs played all 16 games with one start. He had 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. 

He is playing up to his nickname of “T-Sizzle.” He plays a combination outside linebacker/defensive end in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense, but on the depth chart released by the team his position is listed as “Rush.” That fits, too.

Taylor Decker, the Lions’ offensive left tackle, got a preview scouting report on Suggs in the Ravens’ win over Houston on Monday night. Suggs had two sacks, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

”He’s like an ageless player,” Decker said.  “He’s a productive pass rusher – their most productive pash rusher. He just huge, a really good athlete. He’s getting up there in years and he’s still producing at a very high level.

“There are not a lot of guys like that.”

Suggs shows no signs of slowing down. He played 60 of 69 defensive snaps against the Texans. The only player on the Ravens’ front seven who played more snaps was linebacker C.J. Mosley, who played all 69.

Suggs is finishing his 15th season strong. He has five sacks in the last three games.

“He works at it,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “He works really hard. The other thing is the unbelievable gene pool that he comes from. Like he said this week, he can thank his mom and dad, because that is really a rare person.”