With two games left in the season and desperately clinging to their playoff hopes after a four-game losing streak, the Baltimore Ravens prepare to face the Los Angeles Rams at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday. The Ravens will likely be without quarterback Lamar Jackson again this week, meaning Tyler Huntley will receive the start after missing last week’s game on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Here are some of the key matchups for Sunday’s contest to keep an eye on.
Ravens’ interior offensive line vs. Aaron Donald
Baltimore’s offensive line will face one of the best defensive players in history this week when defensive tackle Aaron Donald lines up across from them. The 30-year-old All-Pro is in the midst of yet another brilliant season with 12 sacks and 81 pressures — second in the NFL according to PFF.
Only players with 80+ pressures this season:— PFF (@PFF) December 31, 2021
Maxx Crosby - 87
Aaron Donald - 81 pic.twitter.com/QpSLeoSFS6
Rookie Ben Cleveland will once again fill in for the injured Ben Powers at left guard; a matchup the Rams will likely look to exploit. Center Bradley Bozeman and right guard Kevin Zeitler have been the Ravens’ best offensive linemen this season and will be relied upon this week to prevent Donald from wrecking the game. Doubling or even triple teaming Donald will be necessary on passing plays. Utilizing a quick passing attack will also help to neutralize Donald’s impact as a pass rusher.
Jalen Ramsey vs. Mark Andrews
Tight end Mark Andrews enters Week 17 on fire with three straight games with over 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown. The league leader in receiving yards among tight ends, Andrews has become one of the most dangerous playmakers in the game, regardless of Baltimore’s quarterback situation. Los Angeles will have to find a way to slow down Andrews in the passing game and one way they could attempt to do so is by using cornerback Jalen Ramsey to cover him.
The Rams have used their All-Pro cornerback all over the field this season, including in the slot, where Andrews is second only to wide receiver Cooper Kupp in receiving yards from the slot with 750.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Rashod Bateman deserve respect on the outside as well, but Andrews remains by far the best and most reliable target in the passing attack for the Ravens.
Tavon Young vs. Cooper Kupp
On the opposite side of the ball, Baltimore’s depleted secondary will have their hands full with a talented group of wide receivers. Kupp, the league leader in receiving yards, presents the biggest threat of the group.
Through the litany of injuries suffered at the cornerback position for the Ravens, slot corner Tavon Young remains standing. Young is pivotal to containing Kupp, with 1,201 of his 1,734 receiving yards coming from the slot.
With Anthony Averett ruled out, the Ravens won't have their two All-Pro corners (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters) or the starter who Wink Martindale's said has All-Pro talent (Averett).— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) December 31, 2021
Tavon Young's play Sunday is key. Cooper Kupp lines up in the slot on 66% of his routes.
Matthew Stafford vs. pressure
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been solid in his first season with Los Angeles. The veteran has struggled against pressure, however, with the worst passer rating in the NFL against it. Luckily for Stafford, Baltimore may be without rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh. Oweh, listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a foot injury, is second on the team with five sacks and presents the deadliest skillset among the Ravens’ group of edge rushers.
If Oweh is unable to go, it will be up to Justin Houston and Tyus Bowser to carry the load on the edge with players such as Calais Campbell and Justin Madubuike providing push from the interior. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale will have to be careful with dialing up blitzes considering the state of the secondary against such a dangerous group of receivers, although pressure will be key in forcing Stafford into mistakes and giving the undermanned Ravens a shot at pulling the upset.