(CBS Baltimore) — Both the Baltimore Ravens and the Chicago Bears have had a little extra time to recover and prepare for Sunday’s matchup. The Ravens played last Thursday night, losing an ugly one to the Miami Dolphins. The Bears enjoyed a bye after a dropping a close one to the Pittsburgh Steelers the week prior. Both teams will be looking to get back in the win column.
In a season of relative parity, every NFL contender seems to have at least one unexplainable upset loss on their record. It was the Ravens (and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’) turn in Week 10, when they handed they Dolphins their third win of the season. The game started off promisingly enough, with a 47-yard drive ending in a field goal. Their next possession ended in a missed field goal attempt. Thanks to the Dolphins’ defense, the seven possessions after that all went nowhere and ended in punts. The Ravens finally found the end zone late in the fourth quarter, after giving up a fumble return for a touchdown to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. But Miami soon returned the favor and essentially ended the game.
The Ravens’ ground game was held mostly in check. Lamar Jackson only managed 39 yards on nine carries, not much better than Devonta Freeman’s 10 carries for 35 yards. Their team total of 94 yards fell far below their league-leading average. Jackson found some success through the air, but completed only 26-43 and averaged only 5.5 yards per attempt.
“I look at the Dolphins game, it’s really about giving credit to Brian Flores and the defensive game plan that they came up with,” said NFL On CBS analyst London Fletcher. “They took the Ravens out of what they love to do, which is run the football. And they won first and second down and put the Raven in a lot of third and seven-plus situations. There were 10 situations on third down where the Ravens were third and seven-plus. They only converted two of those third downs. The Ravens are not a team that wants to be in those situations.”
One bright spot to Week 10 came a few days later, when the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers also played far below expectations in losing to the New England Patriots and tying the Detroit Lions respectively. The Ravens, now 6-3, held on to the AFC North lead. They’ll have a chance at redemption when they visit Chicago this Sunday.
The Bears entered their bye week having lost four straight and essentially removed themselves from contention in the NFC North. (The Green Bay Packers are 8-2.) But there are some positives to take from an otherwise disappointing season. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields, while not the immediate savior fans may have hoped for, is making progress. His showing in Week 9 — 17-29 for 291 yards, one TD and One INT — may be his best of the season so far. And his 103 yards on 10 carries the week before illustrated his dual-threat potential.
According to Fletcher, “he’s getting better week in and week out. I feel like Bill Lazor has made a difference in him in terms of the play-calling. Bill Lazor, the offensive coordinator, is now calling plays, as opposed to Matt Nagy. And you’ve seen Justin Fields settle down a little bit more, be more productive. They’re leaning on the running game a little bit more, doing a lot of things that make him comfortable. He’s still getting sacked too many times, and part of it is because he’s so athletic and he may feel like he can get out of sack situations. And he’s holding onto the ball a little bit too long and trying to outrun defenders.”
The Bears running game is already fifth best in the NFL, averaging 136.6 yards per game. They’ll continue to slowly open up the offense, as he grows more comfortable. And Fields should continue to grow, with dangerous receivers like Allen Robinson hopefully getting more opportunities as well.
“He’s too good of a receiver to have the numbers that he has on the season right now,” Fletcher said of Robinson. “Allen Robinson’s season has been one of the most disappointing this year, in terms of what he was able to do last year. This year, the targets are down, the receptions are down. The Bears could be encouraged by his last ballgame. He finally had four receptions for 68 yards on six targets.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears defense has been mostly stout against the pass of late. It held Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger each to around 200 yards. Led by pass rushers Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack, they’ve piled up 25 sacks on the season so far. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith is among the league leaders in tackles with 93. The secondary is susceptible, particularly without safety Eddie Jackson, who’s recovering from a recent hamstring injury. Injuries continue to be a concern after the bye week. Mack has missed the last two games with a foot injury. The return of one of the NFL’s premiere defenders is uncertain for Week 11.
“The strength of the Bears is that defense, that front seven,” Fletcher pointed out. “Khalil Mack, I know he’s missed the last few ballgames. Roquan Smith, I love him at the linebacker position. They have some guys along that front seven that can really make plays. That’s the strength of the Bears team.”
Their counterparts on the Ravens have also had their ups and downs. They contained an unexceptional Dolphins rushing attack last week, but Jacoby Brissett and Tua Tagovailoa combined for 314 yards through the air. The defense also failed to put the ball back in Jackson’s capable hands late in the fourth quarter after he narrowed the lead to five. Two weeks before they let Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals pile up 416 yards passing and three touchdowns in a blowout loss. The absence of cornerback Marcus Peters and safety DeShon Elliott has been glaring at times in the defensive backfield. The usually strong unit gives up an NFL-worst 283.3 passing yards per game. The run defense is noticeably better, allowing only 88.2 yards.
“Their defense, quite frankly, hasn’t played as well as we’re accustomed to seeing,” said Fletcher. “We’re used to the Ravens being a dominant defense, able to get after you. They still stop the run well. But on the backend, they’re allowing teams to pass the football against them a lot this year. I know they’ve had some injuries in the secondary. We’re not used to the Ravens allowing teams to get a bunch of yards against them, attack them through the air. They’re decent in terms of sacks. But the yards through the air that they’re allowing, that’s been a surprise to me.”
The Ravens play the Bears Sunday, November 21 @ 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS.