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Monday, December 16, 2013
Matchups to watch: Ravens at Lions

By Doug Clawson

The winner of tonight’s game can solidify their grasp on a playoff spot, and the loser could potentially be on the outside looking in. Here are the key matchups to watch entering the Week 15 edition of Monday Night Football between the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions.

Matthew Stafford vs Joe Flacco in red zone
Joe Flacco completed 4-of-5 red zone passes last week for three touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown pass with the perfect touch to Marlon Brown. Getting Dennis Pitta back gives Flacco another red zone weapon.

Pitta caught a touchdown on fourth-and-goal last week, and has caught 75.0 percent of his red zone targets dating back to last season, including the playoffs. Overall, Flacco ranks in the top 10 in touchdown passes (16) and Total QBR (78.8) inside the 20 yard line this year.

On the other side, Matthew Stafford is tied for second in the NFL with 19 red zone touchdowns and tied for the fifth-best Total QBR (88.9). Stafford has thrown 16 of those 19 touchdowns to the collection of Kris Durham (6’6”), Joseph Fauria (6’7”), Brandon Pettigrew (6’5”) and Calvin Johnson (6’5”).

Both quarterbacks will be challenged by stingy red zone defenses. The Ravens defense has allowed 13 red zone touchdowns in 33 drives this season (39.4 percent), tied for the best efficiency in the NFL with the Panthers. The Lions are tied for third in red zone efficiency.

Calvin Johnson vs Ravens secondary
Calvin Johnson has seven red zone touchdowns this season (tied for fifth in the NFL), but he will be the Ravens biggest concern all over the field.

Megatron ranks second in the NFL with 1,348 receiving yards this season, and 1,100 of those yards (roughly 82 percent) have come inside the painted field numbers.

The league average for percentage of receiving yardage inside the field numbers is roughly 60. Besides Johnson, no receiver has more than 737 yards inside the numbers.

A defense that has moved on this season without future hall-of-famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed roaming the middle will have a tall order stopping Johnson. He leads the NFL in yards after contact on receptions (208 yards) and we have seen him make highlight reel catches on jump balls in the middle of several defenders against the Bengals and Cowboys this season.

Which team makes fewer mistakes?
Joe Flacco is tied for fourth in the NFL with 19 turnovers this season, including 17 interceptions, 11 of which have come on the road. The Ravens haven’t been able make up for those, they rank 25th in the NFL with a -5 turnover margin, including -6 on the road (Ravens 1-5 on road this season).

The Lions have beat themselves during the last 4 games by committing 15 turnovers, most in the NFL (13 turnovers in first 9 games). Eight of the 15 turnovers have come within their opponent’s 30 yard-line, costing the team 26.4 expected points. Matthew Stafford leads the team and NFL with nine turnovers during that span (Lions 1-3 in last four games)