After falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens will stay on the road to face their third divisional opponent in a row, the Cleveland Browns, for the second time in three weeks. Both teams are looking to bounce back from divisional losses while missing key players this week.
Here are some of the key matchups for Sunday’s game.
Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney vs. Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips
The biggest mismatch on paper has to be Cleveland’s duo of edge rushers against Baltimore’s offensive tackles. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has struggled to keep his head above water this season and will now face one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers in Myles Garrett. Garrett is currently second in the league in sacks with 14, while Villanueva has allowed seven sacks this season according to PFF.
Meanwhile, Tyre Phillips will start at right tackle in place of Patrick Mekari and should see a heavy dose of Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney may have never lived up to his No. 1 pick status, but the 28-year-old pass rusher is still extremely effective at both pressuring the quarterback and defending the run.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson has not responded well to pressure for much of the season now and he should continue to see pressure from both tackle spots this Sunday.
Ravens’ defense vs. Browns’ rushing attack
Baltimore effectively bottled up Cleveland’s ground game in their previous matchup two weeks ago, holding them to 40 total rushing yards. This does not mean that the Ravens can overlook the havoc the Browns are capable of wreaking on the ground with one of the NFL’s best offensive lines paving the way for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Inside linebacker Patrick Queen will be a key component in shutting down the run again. The second-year inside linebacker made several splash plays against Cleveland in their last meeting, including perfectly timing a run blitz to blow up a handoff in the backfield. Veterans Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams are vital to stuffing the run in the middle while outside linebackers Odafe Oweh, Justin Houston, and Tyus Bowser must hold the edges effectively to avoid giving up big runs.
Cleveland’s wide receivers vs. Baltimore’s cornerbacks
The Ravens suffered yet another devastating blow last Sunday when All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Humphrey joins fellow All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters on injured reserve, leaving Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith, Chris Westry, and Tavon Young to defend against opposing aerial attacks.
The Browns have received more production from tight ends this season through the air than from their wide receivers, but with tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant set to miss Sunday’s game, Cleveland will need more from their receivers in the passing game. Veteran Jarvis Landry remains the team’s top wide receiver while Donovan Peoples-Jones has emerged behind him as a big-play threat. Quarterback Baker Mayfield will surely look to test Baltimore’s depleted cornerbacks.
Lamar Jackson vs. the blitz
Until Jackson and the Ravens’ offense show an effective counter to the overwhelming amount of blitzes opponents are hurling their way, this will continue to be a key matchup every week going forward.
The fourth-year star quarterback has struggled mightily against blitzes for several weeks now — throwing an uncharacteristic amount of interceptions (four against the Browns in Week 12) and failing to get the ball out quickly to open targets which result in more sacks. Jackson will have to find an answer soon, as teams will only continue to send numbers his way until he can make them pay on a consistent basis.