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Monday, December 7, 2009
Pass rush vital for Ravens

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Jarret Johnson
With six sacks to his credit this season, Jarret Johnson hopes to hit Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers early and often Monday night.
While watching the Baltimore Ravens play the Green Bay Packers on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," keep a close eye on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

If Rodgers is untouched and comfortable in the pocket, Baltimore is in major trouble. But if Rodgers is constantly picking himself off the ground, the Ravens could collect one of their biggest wins of the season.

Baltimore's pass rush might be the biggest difference Monday for the desperate Ravens. At 6-5, Baltimore has little margin for error if it wants to make the playoffs for the second straight year.

The Ravens have struggled with sacks all season, recording just 21 in 11 games. On the flip side Green Bay (7-4) has allowed an astounding 44 sacks of Rodgers in 11 games. So something has to give.

Rest assured, the Ravens will test Green Bay's biggest weakness.

"They had some problems early in the year, because they had some injuries up front and you’ve got guys running at him full speed sometimes," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "You’re either getting it off quick or you’re getting sacked. But the one thing I noticed watching all the film, [Rodgers] has steadily improved. And he’s always been a very talented quarterback."

When the Packers played the Cincinnati Bengals (9-3) in Week 2, the Bengals registered six sacks on their way to a 31-24 victory. The Ravens will try to win with a similar formula.

When Rodgers isn't on his back, he's one of the NFL's most efficient quarterbacks. He's thrown for 3,136 yards, 22 touchdowns and just five interceptions. His passer rating is 104.9.

Baltimore will likely attempt to generate a pass rush without one of its best defenders Monday in Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs, who is doubtful with a knee injury. In Suggs' absence, linebacker Jarret Johnson (six sacks) has been the team's best pass-rusher. Rookie Paul Kruger also has an opportunity to pick up some of the slack.

"We’ve gone two games now without Terrell," Mattison said. "It’s been tough, but I said earlier, somebody has got to step up. And that’s what our whole deal has been, is the next guy goes in and he plays as hard as he can, and hopefully he’s got enough in the bank."

Weather also could play a factor, as it is expected to be frigid and windy in Green Bay. That could impact the passing games for both teams.

The Ravens and Packers are both built to thrive in cold weather. So look for the most physical team to prevail Monday night.

"It makes the game different, but both teams are in the conditions," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "We’ve played in some playoff games, a couple of championship games, that were really, really cold. Everybody manages to stay pretty warm."