Week 1 of the 2021 season is finally upon us. The Ravens are set to travel to Las Vegas to face the Raiders on Monday Night Football for their season debut. Several key matchups to keep an eye on during Monday night’s showdown:
Darren Waller vs. safeties and linebackers
The former Ravens wide receiver-turned-tight end has joined the upper echelon of players at his position with his elite play in recent years. Waller’s rare combination of speed and size makes him the true definition of a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Baltimore’s defensive game plan will likely begin with containing Waller. Leaving a single safety or linebacker in one-on-one coverage with the playmaking tight end could end poorly, so defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale will have to be creative to prevent Waller from taking over the game, even if that means sticking a cornerback on him instead.
Ravens offensive line vs. Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby
The Ravens will field a much different offensive line on Monday night with new starters at several positions, including new faces as well as players from last season playing different positions. Lining up across from them will be a familiar face in Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue was signed by Las Vegas to pair with third-year defensive end Maxx Crosby after spending most of last season in Baltimore.
With left tackle Ronnie Stanley returning from a season-ending ankle injury and Alejandro Villanueva playing his first season at right tackle, the Ravens offensive line will be tested by the Raiders' solid duo of edge rushers.
Retooled pass rush vs. Raiders revamped offensive line
Similar to Baltimore, the offensive line for Las Vegas will look much different this season. The Raiders traded away longtime Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson, and right tackle Trent Brown this offseason. Rookie first-round pick Alex Leatherwood will replace Brown at right tackle, while Denzel Good and Andre James will fill in at right guard and center, respectively.
The Ravens lost their two top outside linebackers in free agency this offseason in Matthew Judon and Ngakoue. To replace them, Baltimore used a first-round pick on Odafe Oweh, a fifth-round pick on Daelin Hayes, and brought in veteran Justin Houston. Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee returned on new deals and Jaylon Ferguson enters a make-or-break season in his third year in the NFL.
On the defensive line, Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, and Derek Wolfe all return as the team’s starters upfront. Justin Madubuike has received more praise than possibly any Ravens player this offseason and is in store for a breakout second season.