QB Brett Favre posted a 137.4 passer rating against the Ravens
Want to know how to defeat the Baltimore Ravens and their supposedly impenetrable defense? Do what the Packers did on Sunday in their 31-23 victory against the Ravens.
They took pages from the Rams' playbook, spread the field on offense, used a myriad of offensive formations and pass patterns, and forced the Ravens to turn over the ball on their way to an impressive performance.
Baltimore entered the game with the league's top-ranked defense across the board (overall and against the run and pass), allowing a meager 201.3 yards per game and 143.5 passing yards per game. In fact, the current Ravens' defense has been considered one of the best in NFL history.
That didn't seem to bother the Packers, who got 337 passing yards and three touchdown passes from quarterback Brett Favre, 138 receiving yards from receiver Antonio Freeman, two touchdown catches from second-year tight end Bubba Franks, and 72 total yards and a rushing touchdown from running back Ahman Green.
The last time Baltimore surrendered more than 30 points was the second game of last season.
"[Packers offensive coordinator] Tom Rossley had a great game plan," Favre said. "He told me Tuesday when I came in to watch film, 'We're going to get 400 yards on this team [the Ravens].' No one has got more than 150 on them in the last two years so I kind of said, 'Yeah, you're right, Tom.' I'm walking out of there thinking, 'This guy is crazy; he must be drinking.' I think we were 9 yards from 400."
The key for Green Bay, which indeed gained 391 net total yards, centered around changing their balanced attack to a more free-wheeling approach intent on stretching the defense.
"The Ravens are a hard team to run on and that was the number-one reason for opening up the offense," Rossley said. "We wanted to keep them off balance and keep their rushers guessing. We had to do something different because so many people have tried basic approaches and failed. We had to think outside the box."
The Packers led 17-7 at halftime by using a four-receiver set 14 times, a three-receiver set seven times and an empty backfield twice. They ran a total of 37 offensive plays in the first half -- 19 with the shotgun. In the second half, with a light rain falling and temperatures dropping, Green Bay kept the heat on.
The Packers had only four wide receivers active for the game, so when starter Bill Schroeder suffered a sprained right ankle at the end of the second quarter and was lost for the game, the Packers ran only one four-receiver set and used a three-receiver set 12 times in the second half.
Green Bay scored two touchdowns on only 23 total plays in the second half. Favre was in the shotgun 13 times.
Favre did a great job of quickly reading the defense and finding the open receiver. Nine Packers caught passes.
Freeman, who had only nine receptions in four games, caught nine passes -- one for a touchdown. Schroeder (four catches for 34 yards), Dorsey Levens (four for 17), Donald Driver (3-69), Green (2-18), Franks (2-4), Corey Bradford (1-47), David Martin (1-9) and William Henderson (1-1) all played an integral part in the passing attack.
And using more wide receivers didn't affect Favre's protection. The Packers' offensive line did a brilliant job. Favre was rarely pressured and sacked only twice.
In this year's kickoff issue of NFL Insider magazine, Rams head coach Mike Martz and quarterback Kurt Warner revealed how the high-powered Rams would attack the Ravens.
"You're not going to slug it out with them [the Ravens]," Martz said. "You've got to spread these guys and make them play the whole field." "I think the Ravens' biggest strength is through their linebackers," Warner said. "If you put out four wide receivers, they either have to bring in some extra defensive backs, or they have to leave their linebackers in to cover your extra receivers."
Prophetic words for the Packers, who exploited matchups all afternoon. "I felt very good about the matchups we got all afternoon," Rossley says. "And everybody stepped up when they were called on."
On the opening drive, Schroeder got single coverage on Ravens veteran safety Carnell Lake, which resulted in a 10-yard gain. Schroeder made a crucial first-down catch on Green Bay's first touchdown drive when Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis was forced to cover the speedy receiver on a crossing pattern.
On that same drive, Freeman caught a 19-yard pass in a three-receiver set. Driver had a 37-yard catch in the three-receiver set in third quarter. When the Packers were in their four-receiver set, they had six pass plays go for more than 10 yards, including a 28-yard reception by Driver and a 47-yard effort from Bradford.
The Ravens also were flagged for two crucial pass interference penalties when the Packers had four receivers in the game, and each time the penalty helped lead to a Green Bay score.
"Our catches were downfield, and that made a difference," Favre said. "You can dink and dunk all day, but when you throw the ball down the field you have to make some plays. And our guys made some phenomenal catches downfield."
Don't forget that one distinct advantage the Packers and Rams have in attacking the Ravens' defense is that each has one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.
Favre, a former three-time league MVP who threw three interceptions against the Buccaneers a week ago, was 27 of 34 with no interceptions. It was the 30th time in Favre's career that he had passed for more than 300 yards in a game.
"Other people had spread them out in the past, but I think a lot of the reason it worked for us is because number four was our quarterback," Packers head coach Mike Sherman said. "We had an excellent game plan. We were in a lot of shotgun and a lot of new type of runs out of the shotgun that we haven't employed much lately.
"Being in the shotgun put him [Favre] in a very comfortable position to see the entire field. Putting in four receivers and going empty sometimes helped us, but what won the game for us today was our players playing together as a team in every phase."