GREEN BAY—Mike McCarthy pinpointed a key to Sunday’s game without even trying.
Earlier this week, in discussing Baltimore’s defense, McCarthy said he was impressed by how well the Ravens are playing on third down.
Moments later, he was asked if there’s an area he’d like to see his offense improve. His answer: “We need to pick it up on third down. That’s the thing we spent a lot of time on (Tuesday) night as a staff.”
Third down is known as the “money down” for a reason in the NFL. It’s key every week. But given this is the second straight game the Packers have gone up against one of the league’s top third-down defenses – Detroit is now No. 2, while Baltimore is No. 4 – and McCarthy’s admission the coaching staff concentrated on third down in game-planning this week, it’s as though a game-changing third-down moment (or two or three) is being forecast.
“We’d like to do a better job there,” McCarthy said. “We have a plan, we have a process. We definitely have the players. I have confidence we’ll get it where it needs to be.”
It’s not as though third down has been a glaring sore spot. The Packers rank a respectable 12th in third-down offense at 38.8 percent, and they actually knocked the Lions out of the No. 1 perch in third-down defense by converting seven of 16 (44 percent) last week.
But there were a pair of third-and-one passes that failed, one that prevented the Packers from getting into scoring range and another that forced one of the five field-goal attempts. Failing on third-and-short on the road against the Ravens on Sunday could serve as a huge momentum swing for the home team.
“Their defense has always been the focal point in my opinion of their football team,” McCarthy said.
Another related area where a Baltimore strength will clash with a Green Bay focal point is the red zone.
Despite scoring 52 points in their last two games, the Packers scored touchdowns on just two of six trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line against Cincinnati and Detroit. Traditionally one of the top red-zone offenses in the league, Green Bay is tied for 13th (56.3 percent, nine TDs in 16 possessions) in the rankings.
Settling for field goals certainly contributed to the loss to the Bengals and very well could have caused more difficulty against the Lions.
“We allowed Detroit multiple times to just stay within that one score, and you can’t allow teams to do that,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Because it’ll just take one big play and all of a sudden, we’ll be losing.”
The Ravens, meanwhile, are tied for third in red-zone defense (33 percent) and have allowed only two TDs in 10 possessions since Week 1.
From the head coach on down, the Packers expressed confidence this week that the red-zone efficiency would improve. Doing so against Baltimore, like nearly any important task offensively, will be a tall order.
“It tightens up, everything moves a lot faster, and everybody has to be on the same page,” receiver James Jones said of being in the red zone.
“When we get down there, the focus has to go up, the urgency has to go up. The windows are a lot smaller because you’re working with a short field. Throws have to be fit in, and there are going to be some contested catches where we have to go up and make some plays.” Additional coverage - Oct. 11