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Ravens vs. Chargers potential X factors: Young tight ends primed for a heavy workload

This AFC bout could be decided by contributions from a handful of players.

NFL: NOV 16 Bengals at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12 on Sunday Night Football. They are sizable favorites to win their second straight game under a national spotlight. These two teams haven’t faced off since 2021 and while they are trending in different directions, they each have a lot on the line in this contest.

In almost every game, there is a play or two made that helped swing momentum into a team’s favor or extend their lead. There are a handful of select players who either aren’t being talked about as much or are primed to have a big day.

Below are some of those individuals who could prove to be deciding factors in the final outcome.

TE Isaiah Likely

Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The second-year pro will be leading the joint effort to try to offset the loss of three-time Pro Bowler Mark Andrews as the Ravens new starting tight end for the remainder of the season starting on Sunday. He had several big receiving performances as a rookie when called upon and while he hasn’t caught many passes through the first 11 games of his sophomore campaign, Likely has made tremendous strides as a blocker—especially downfield—as he continues to develop into a complete player at the position. The 2022 fourth-rounder will probably see a lot of Chargers three-time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James in one-on-one coverage in this game so putting up gaudy stats as pass catcher might be a challenge. However, in the Ravens Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, he proved that he didn’t need the ball in his hands to have a significant impact on the game.

TE Charlie Kolar

Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Since James can only cover one tight end at a time and the Ravens run a high volume of 12 personnel, the Ravens’ other second-year pro at the position could be poised for his biggest game as a pass catcher not only of the season but of his young career this week. Kolar caught the first pass of his sophomore campaign on just his second target of the year last week for 13 receiving yards and first down. He was the first tight end that the Ravens took in the fourth round last year and even though he was a prolific pass catcher in college at Iowa State University, his biggest and most impressive contributions have been as a blocker in the run game. Going against a Chargers pass defense that is ranked dead-last against the pass, he will have a chance to showcase his entire skillset.

OLB Kyle Van Noy

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 10th-year veteran makes the list for the second week in a row because he continues to play well and will be going up against another one of his former teams this season. Van Noy spent last season with the Chargers and despite recording at least five sacks for the fourth year in a row, wasn’t brought back and sat on the open market until the Ravens signed him in late September. He currently ranks third on the team in sacks with six in just eight games which is just half a sack less than Joey Bosa and more than every other defender on the Chargers’ defense not named Khalil Mack who has 11 but a six came in one game against Las Vegas Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell in his first career start back in Week 4.

WR Nelson Agholor

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The ninth-year veteran is the only one of the Ravens’ top five wideouts that didn’t appear on the injury report this week and even though all the ones that were are expected to play, the team might try to limit their workload heading into the bye week. This could lead to more snaps for Agholor and even if it doesn’t, he has shown that he can make the most of limited opportunities this season. Last week, he hauled in a deflected pass for his lone reception of the game and proceeded to take it to the house for a 37-yard touchdown. With Andrews out indefinitely, he is now the Ravens’ leader in scoring receptions with three, and going against a Chargers defense that allows the most explosive pass plays per game in the entire league, there’s a strong chance that he could extend his lead come Sunday night.

DB Marcus Williams

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The seventh-year veteran free safety has looked better the healthier he has gotten since returning from his hamstring injury. Even though he is still dealing with a pectoral injury, Williams has still been able to make impressive clutch plays on the ball. He has yet to record his first interception of the year but is coming off his best game of the season in which he displayed improved tackling ability with seven total takedowns and broke up a pair of third-down passes. Although Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has only thrown five interceptions this season—tied with Lamar Jackson for second-fewest among starters with 10 or more starts—he has shown a propensity to overthrow his targets down the field which are passes that Williams and fellow ballhawk Geno Stone have shown a knack for hauling in for timely turnovers.

RB Gus Edwards

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While the Chargers have given up the 11th fewest rushing yards (1,020) through the first 11 weeks of the season, they are tied for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns allowed (12). Unfortunately for them, the Ravens’ sixth-year veteran is arguably the best goal line ball carrier in the NFL who has recorded a rushing touchdown in five straight games and entered Week 12 with the second-most scoring runs in the league with a career-high 10. If the Ravens’ offense can work their way down the field through the air, the likelihood of Edwards being able to finish those drives in the end zone is very high.