The 8-5 Baltimore Ravens return home on a two-game losing streak to host the 10-3 Green Bay Packers. The Ravens will potentially be without quarterback Lamar Jackson against the NFC’s No. 1 seed on Sunday. Jackson has not practiced this week and is listed as questionable with the ankle injury he suffered against the Cleveland Browns last Sunday.
Here are some of the key matchups that Baltimore must win in order to pull the upset this week.
Ravens’ secondary vs. Davante Adams
The Ravens will be without their original four starters in the secondary against the Packers. Safety Chuck Clark has been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, while safety DeShon Elliott and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are all on injured reserve. This leaves the daunting task of covering one of the NFL’s best wide receivers to cornerbacks Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith and company, while safeties Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone, and Tony Jefferson provide necessary help.
The league’s best route-runner has racked up 1,204 receiving yards through the first 15 weeks of the season and has a chance to greatly boost that number this week, unless Baltimore’s ragtag group of defensive backs are somehow able to limit his damage through the air. Reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers will surely look to exploit such an obvious mismatch early and often.
Ravens’ top-ranked special teams vs. Packers’ bottom-ranked special teams
According to Football Outsider’s DVOA ratings, Sunday will feature a showdown between the league’s No. 1 special teams unit and the No. 32 unit. Green Bay’s special teams' inadequacies were on full display against the Chicago Bears in Week 14 when Jakeem Grant Sr. totaled 131 yards on three returns, including a 97-yard return for a touchdown.
According to NFL.com, the Ravens are first in the NFL in average punt return yards, averaging 14.4 yards on 25 returns for a total of 360 yards. Meanwhile, the Packers have only averaged 6.7 yards on 20 returns for a total of 134 yards. Green Bay has also fumbled four times on punt returns this season. In a game where Baltimore needs any advantage they can get, the battle of field position could be vital to keeping up on the scoreboard.
Ravens’ offensive tackles vs. Packers’ edge rushers
As is the case every week this season, the Ravens’ offensive tackles appear to be overmatched on paper. Green Bay’s best edge rusher, Za’Darius Smith, will not play his former team this week as he continues to work his way back from back surgery. Outside linebackers Preston Smith and Rashan Gary will be more than enough for Baltimore’s tackles, however, as the duo has totaled 13.5 sacks this season.
Left tackle Alejandro Villueneva has allowed nine sacks this season, according to PFF — the most in the NFL among tackles. The Ravens could receive a boost on the offensive line if Patrick Mekari returns to the starting lineup this Sunday. Mekari suffered a hand injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13 that was expected to sideline him for a while, leaving second-year Tyre Phillips to start at right tackle against the Browns. Mekari returned to practice this week, albeit in limited participation.
Whether Jackson is able to go on Sunday or if backup quarterback Tyler Huntley gets his second start of the season, Baltimore’s offensive line must hold up for the offense to keep pace throughout the game.
Ravens’ offense vs. the blitz
This will continue to be a weekly staple of this series until the Ravens can make teams pay for the exuberant amount of blitzes being thrown their way. Jackson was in the midst of the worst stretch of his career before going down with an injury against Cleveland, largely due to how defenses have adjusted their game plan for Baltimore. The Ravens have struggled to identify and pick up blitzes this season, leading to quick pressure on the quarterback frequently — often with no effective answer.
Such was the case on the final play of last week’s game when Huntley hit his hot read against a six-man rush short of the sticks on fourth down. The game — and Baltimore’s valiant comeback attempt — was over after wide receiver Rashod Bateman was tackled by cornerback Denzel Ward shortly after catching the pass short of the sticks. Teams are only going to continue sending numbers at the Ravens until the quarterback and offensive coordinator Greg Roman display the ability to counter it.