The Baltimore Ravens will host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the first of their two-game homestand to close out the regular season. It is a must-win situation for them after dropping their last four games and their opponent having won their last four.
In order to give themselves the best shot to pull off the upset, they’ll need to ensure some key things happen and don’t happen on both sides of the ball.
Fast and furious pass rush: The Ravens’ already shorthanded secondary will be without top cornerback Anthony Averett who missed practice all week with a rib/chest injury. Their pass rush will have to step up in a major way to mask the clear deficiencies in the backend in order to slow down or at least limit one of the most prolific passing attacks in the league.
They’ll need to bring the heat early and often to rattle veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford. It will be key to disrupt the timing between him and his talented group of pass-catchers headlined by receiving triple crown leader Cooper Kupp on his record-breaking pace, Odell Beckham thriving in his new environment and ascending second-year pro Van Jefferson.
It all needs to start up the middle with interior pressure from Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, and Isaiah Mack to consistently prevent Stafford from being able to step up in the pocket to elude edge pressure. By doing that, they’ll be able to blow up plays faster and flush him out of the pocket and into the arms of outside linebackers Justin Houston, Tyus Bowser, and Odafe Oweh if he plays. The three young aforementioned defensive linemen have all come on strong as of late and will need to continue showing out this week if their defense is going to be able to come away with enough stops.
Capitalize on turnover opportunities: Even though Stafford ranks second in the league in touchdown passes with 36, third in passer rating with 104, and fourth in passing yards with 4339, he has been a turnover machine at times this season. He’s coming off a game against the Minnesota Vikings where he provided their offense with short fields twice with two of three interceptions.
The Ravens are tied for the second-fewest interceptions in the league through 16 weeks with just six on the year, three of which belong to Averett who won’t be playing. Even though their turnover totals overall are low with just five lost fumbles recovered, they’ve had their fair share of loose balls not bounce their way and several pass deflections, as well as tipped, passes bounce off their hands. In order to keep this game close and provide their offense with some short fields to work with, the Ravens defense will need to force some turnovers and not let the easy ones that come their way getaway or harmlessly fall to the turf.
Play keep away: The Rams possess one of the most explosive and potent offensive in the league, averaging nearly 30 points a game and over 275 yards through the air per game. One way the Ravens’ offense can help their beleaguered defense is by keeping Stafford and Co. on the sidelines for extended periods of time with methodical yet still up-tempo time-consuming drives.
By limiting to amount of time Los Angeles gets to see the field on offense, it will help their chances of keeping the game close. Last week, the Ravens’ best drive was their first of the game where they took nearly six minutes off the clock and covered 75 yards in 12 plays — before finishing it in the end zone to take an early lead. That was with third-string veteran Josh Johnson under center. With second-year pro Tyler Huntley back off the Reserve/COVID-19 lit and Lamar Jackson yet to be ruled out, they’ll have the threat of a dual-threat quarterback back for this game.
Maximize scoring opportunities: In addition to winning the battle for time of possession, the Ravens will need to do their best to put up as many points as they can when given the chance. This means that scoring touchdowns when they get into the red zone and at least getting into field goal range for Hall of Fame kicker, Justin Tucker, once they cross midfield.
They’ll likely have to go for it on fourth and short/manageable near the goal line. Additionally, calling conservative plays on third and very long if the game is still close and they only need a few more yards to get into position for any kick attempt under or just over 60 yards.
Scoring will be paramount against an opponent that can seemingly do it at will when they’re in a rhythm and clicking on all cylinders.