The Baltimore Ravens will be back on the road in Week 12 after a three-week homestand to face the Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens are sizable favorites to win this AFC matchup against a Chargers team that has lost four of their last six games.
However, games aren’t won on paper or decided by betting odds. There are some pivotal matchups between individual players, units, and coaches that will go a long way in determining the outcome of this contest.
Below are a handful of those key battles that could prove to be deciding factors in Week 12.
QB Lamar Jackson vs. Chargers’ pass defense
There isn’t a defensive unit in the league whose given up more passing yards this season than the Chargers, who have yielded an NFL-high 2,916 in just 10 games. In their latest gut-wrenching loss, they allowed Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Jordan Love to throw for a career-high 322 passing yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passing rating of 108.5.
Jackson isn’t just poised to thrive; he may very well dominate and produce his most explosive passing performance of the season to-date. The Ravens have been trying to get their deep passing attack clicking and this is an ideal defense matchup for it. The Chargers are allowing the most explosive passing plays per game with 4.4.
Explosive plays allowed by defenses through 11 weeks of the season. No team has allowed more explosive passes per game than the Los Angeles Chargers this season pic.twitter.com/SfnP4flFry— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) November 21, 2023
The Ravens’ franchise signal-caller has made tremendous strides as a pure passer inside and outside of the pocket. It wouldn’t be surprising if Jackson put up monster numbers through the air he further bolsters his claim to be voted the league’s most valuable player for a second time.
Ravens’ offensive tackles vs. OLB Khalil Mack
Baltimore’s bookend blockers have one less elite pass rusher to worry about this week with four-time Pro Bowler Joey Bosa going on injured reserve with a foot injury. However, they still have to deal with his seven-time Pro Bowl teammate. Mack is having a resurgent season, having already eclipsed the double-digit sack threshold for the first time since 2018 with a team-leading 11.
It remains to be seen whether Ravens All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be back for this game after missing last week with a knee injury. He returned to practice this week as a limited participant.
If the team opts to give him some extra time to heal heading into the bye week, the task of limiting the former Defensive Player of the Year will fall to veteran right tackle Morgan Moses and Patrick Mekari. Mekari would be making his second straight start on the blindside and eighth of the season between both spots.
The fifth-year veteran has gone up against some of the best edge rushers in the league when he’s had to step in for Stanley and Moses. While he’s given up a few plays, the former undrafted gem had some impressive reps in pass protection as well.
Here is every rep of Trey Hendrickson against Patrick Mekari. Mismatch did not go the way the Bengals anticipated. Mekari deserves his flowers. pic.twitter.com/uY7zfuIRp3— mike (@bengals_sans) September 18, 2023
TE Isaiah Likely vs. DB Derwin James
With three-time Pro Bowler Mark Andrews out indefinitely, Likely will be stepping into a much larger role starting on Sunday. He’ll be matched up often with James, who plays a similar hybrid slot defender role to his teammate Kyle Hamilton.
James is having a down year compared to his typical consistently high level of play when healthy. He’s allowing career-highs in yards per attempt (10.8) and yards per target (8.3), as well as an opposing passer rating of 97.8.
Likely has had a quiet sophomore season thus far with just nine receptions on 12 targets for 89 receiving yards after putting up impressive numbers in a limited role as a rookie. Some of his best games last year came when Andrews was out with or hobbled by an injury. He’ll likely have to beat James most of the time if he wants to start making the most of his extended opportunities.
CB Brandon Stephens vs. WR Keenan Allen
Even though Ravens’ three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey returned to practice this week after missing Week 11, it remains to be seen whether he’ll suit up on Sunday night. That means the task of shadowing the Chargers’ top wideout will be the primary responsibility of Stephens, who is in the midst of a quiet breakout season.
The third-year pro is coming off another near-shutdown performance against Cincinnati Bengals’ two-time Pro Bowl receiver Ja’Marr Chase for the second time this season. He lined up across from the young superstar for the majority of the game and limited him to just one reception for two receiving yards. Chase caught a garbage-time touchdown on seven targets. His only other reception was a short pass he caught behind the line of scrimmage and gained 10 yards on after the catch.
Brandon Stephens is Elite this season pic.twitter.com/5wFoU3Q4RG— クリス (@BatemansBurner) November 17, 2023
Stephens will be facing another tough challenge this week against Allen, who leads the Chargers in targets (113) and receptions (83) by a wide margin. The five-time Pro Bowler is on pace to set a career-high in receiving yards as well with 1,011 yards in 10 games. Allen is an expert route runner who gains separation at the top of his stem using smooth breaks, sharp cuts, and subtle moves.
“He’s a big part of their offense,” Stephens said. “The offense runs through him, but he’s a skilled player. [He has] a finesse to his game, but I’m excited for the matchup.”
Ravens’ pass rush vs. Chargers’ offensive line
While Los Angeles’ starting blocking unit struggles mightily to establish a consistent rushing attack, they fare much better when it comes to pass protection. Through the first 11 weeks of the season, they’ve given up the seventh-fewest sacks (22) in the league. They’ve provided Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert with enough time to throw for the eighth-most passing yards (2,609) and third-most touchdowns (19).
Herbert helps them out by getting the ball out of his hands quickly but they’ll have their hands full with the top-ranked Ravens’ pass rush coming to town. The Ravens lead the league in sacks with 44 total. Baltimore has 14 different players with a sack and six with three or more. They’re led by fourth-year breakout star Justin Madubuike, who leads all interior defensive linemen in the league with 9.5 sacks. He’s just a half-sack away from being the first Ravens defender to reach double figures since Terrell Suggs in 2017.
Justin Madubuike treats 5-time Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio like a blocking sled for sack No. 8.5. pic.twitter.com/2noFfGosoG— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) November 13, 2023
Mike Macdonald’s unit is arguably the best at disguising pressures and coverages by switching things up after initially showing something completely different pre-snap. This misdirection regularly forces opposing quarterbacks to hold on to the ball longer by taking away their first read. That gives their pass rush more time to get home on blitzes, twists, stunts, delayed pressures, and traditional four-man rushes.
The Ravens have made a habit of performing exceptionally well against some of the better pass-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. The Chargers could very well be their next victim on Sunday night. They racked up five sacks in their Week 7 blowout of the Detroit Lions, four sacks in their Week 9 rout of the Seattle Seahawks, and four sacks in both of their games against the Cleveland Browns.