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Ravens vs. Jaguars Key Matchups: Exploiting ailing units will be key to success

This AFC heavyweight bout features key battles between specific players, units, and coaches.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Baltimore Ravens will be back on the road in Week 15 where they will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in primetime on Sunday Night Football. The Ravens are respectable road favorites to win this AFC matchup between a pair of division leaders who have a lot to play for. They’re up a against a Jaguars team that is banged up and is desperate need of a win after losing their last two games to the AFC North teams.

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 15.

Ravens’ outside linebackers vs. Jaguars’ offensive tackles

Baltimore boasts the top pass rush in the league and will be going up against an ailing Jaguars’ offensive line. Jacksonville has players dealing with injuries across the starting lineup but the biggest mismatch will be on the edge. The Jaguars have first-round rookie Anton Harrison starting at right tackle and third-year pro Walker Little filling in at left tackle for Cam Robinson, who is on injured reserve. Little was a limited participant in practice all week with a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the team’s Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Even though Trevor Lawrence was able to play through his high ankle sprain last Sunday, his mobility will be reduced if not limited. Paired with potentially compromised pass protection due to youth and injury, the Ravens’ edge defenders could have a significant influence on the outcome of this game. Veterans Kyle Van Noy and Jadeveon Clowney are having resurgent seasons with six-plus sacks apiece through 13 games and third-year pro Odafe Oweh has recorded four since returning from an early-season injury.

OT Ronnie Stanley vs. OLB Josh Allen

The Ravens will likely continue using a platooning method at their starting offensive tackle spots as they did in the first game back off of the bye. However, the the onus of slowing down Jaguars’ Pro Bowl edge rusher Josh Allen will largely fall to the the Ravens’ All-Pro left tackle. Allen is having the best season of his career to-date in the final year of his contract. He has 13.5 sacks through 13 games — tied for the third-most in the league — and predominantly rushes off the opposing quarterback’s blindside. Stanley has dealt with knee injuries for stretches this year which has impacted his play. However, he wasn’t even listed on the injury report this past week and said the Ravens’ Week 13 bye “helped a ton.”

“Just to be able to get a whole week focusing on rehab, recovery, just get my body to feel better, was definitely needed,” Stanley said last week before the Rams game.

Ravens’ pass attack vs. Jaguars’ pass defense

Jacksonville’s banged-up secondary will be without a pair of starters after cornerback Tyson Campbell and free safety Andre Cisco were ruled out. Last week, the unit was intact and had several coverage busts. They allowed several big plays through the air in their loss to the Joe Flacco-led Cleveland Browns. Now, they face Lamar Jackson and his revamped wide receiver core that is healthy, explosive, and performing at a high level. The Jaguars’ overaggressive second and third-level defenders will be tested early and often, especially on play action passing plays. They will likely be under siege as this matchup presents a prime opportunity for the Ravens to continue working on their deep passing attack, which has yet to consistently click on all cylinders.

Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers and three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr. will benefit greatly from the shorthanded cornerback depth chart. The Ravens pass catcher that could be set up to have the most success, though, is second-year tight end Isaiah Likely. The Jaguars allowed Browns’ veteran tight end David Njoku to haul in six of his eight targets for a team-leading 91 receiving yards that included a pair of 30+ yard touchdowns. Likely is coming off his best game of the season in which he caught five of his seven targets for 83 receiving yards including a 54-yard touchdown that marked his first of the year.

Ravens’ cornerbacks vs. WR Calvin Ridley

Baltimore yielded several big passing plays against the Los Angeles Rams and their dynamic receiver duo of Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. Their defensive backfield will be looking to rebound against another formidable group of pass- catchers highlighted by a dangerous young wideout. The primary responsibility of limiting Ridley’s impact on the game will fall to the cornerbacks. Since the Jaguars’ leading receiver can operate from the slot as well as outside, he could be matched up with any of the Ravens’ starters — so they all will be prepared for the eventuality.

Breakout cornerback Brandon Stephens gave up just his second touchdown of the season last Sunday and will look to return to shutdown form against one of the league’s craftiest route runners. This will be three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey’s second game back since returning to action following the team’s Week 13 bye. He gave up back-to-back long completions on the Rams’ overtime-forcing drive and dropped what would’ve been the game-sealing interception. Expect to see him follow Ridley into the slot if needed or if neither Arthur Maulet nor Pepe Williams proves to be up to the task in the nickel spot.

DB Kyle Hamilton vs. TE Evan Engram

The Ravens dodged a major bullet when the knee injury suffered by their second-year breakout safety last week was revealed not to be serious. Not only did he practice all week but on Friday, Head Coach John Harbaugh told reporters that Hamilton has a “good” chance to play on Sunday night. This is terrific news and if he does suit up for this game, he’ll likely spend a lot of time following Engram all over the field.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with incredible length and athleticism, Hamilton was practically tailormade to neutralize hybrid tight ends such as Engram, who at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds is essentially a big-bodied slot receiver. The Jaguars’ Pro Bowler leads the team in targets (103) and receptions (84), is second in receiving touchdowns (three), and is third in receiving yards (701). Hamilton is key to unlocking the Ravens’ defense up front and in the backend but will key in limiting Engram’s impact.

Ravens’ inside linebackers vs. RB Travis Etienne

Last week, the Rams opened the game with nine straight runs against the Ravens’ defense. They were powered for most of the first half by stud running back Kyren Williams who finished with 114 rushing yards. As formidable as he is, the threat that Etienne poses is even greater. Etienne is capable of turning a short run into a house call and is even more dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield, so bottling him up will be paramount.

As long as their defensive line is able to consistently get off their blocks and prevent second level action, the Ravens have the right men for the job in the middle of their defense. All-Pro Roquan Smith and fourth-year breakout star Patrick Queen are the most aggressive off-ball linebacker tandem in the league. Their paths will likely cross a lot with Etienne’s whether it’s on a run up the middle, in coverage, behind the line of scrimmage, or in pass protection.