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Ravens vs. Rams Key Matchups: Aaron Donald is public enemy No. 1

This interconference clash features key battles between specific players, units, and coaches.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens will be back on the road in Week 14 after a three-week homestand to face the Los Angeles Rams. The Ravens are touchdown favorites to win this interconference matchup coming off their Week 13 bye. They’re up a against a Rams team that has won their last three games since returning from their Week 10 bye.

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 14.

Ravens’ interior offensive line vs. Aaron Donald

The toughest assignment of any unit on Sunday will be Baltimore’s interior offensive linemen, who are tasked with limiting the impact of Donald. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and future first-ballot Hall of Famer leads his team with six sacks. The Rams move Donald around their defensive alignment to probe for favorable matchups. Therefore, it will take a collective effort from center Tyler Linderbaum and the guard tandem of John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler to ensure that he doesn’t wreak havoc up the middle.

“What a tremendous player,” Ravens Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken said of Donald. “It’s a challenge just like every week in this league for a player of caliber and the guys around him that have really picked up their play.”

Linderbaum is having a strong breakout sophomore season and is the third-highest-graded Ravens offensive player, according to Pro Football Focus. He is behind All-Pros Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews with an overall grade of 75.9. Simpson went from a dark horse candidate to win the starting left guard job to a pleasant surprise this season. He plays with a bit of a mean streak and has a penchant for making impressive solo blocks.

Zeitler is having arguably the best season of his 12-year career and is currently leading all AFC guards in Pro Bowl voting, which could lead to his first time receiving the honor.

WR Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Rams cornerbacks

The last time the three-time Pro Bowler took the same field as the Rams, he was a key contributor on their Super Bowl-winning team in 2021. He even caught a pair of passes including a touchdown in the championship game. Earlier in Los Angeles’ run, he delivered a dagger in the form of a late game-winning touchdown over the Ravens. He’ll be a team captain on Sunday and will have a chance to return the favor on a Baltimore team that is a legitimate title contender.

Unlike the Rams team that he was on, the cornerbacks that Beckham Jr. will be going up against on Sunday are a far cry from the upper-echelon duo of All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams. Los Angeles’ top corner trio consists of seventh-year veteran Ahkello Witherspoon, who is on his third team in the last four years, and a pair of second-year pros in Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick — both who were Day 3 picks in last year’s draft.

Standout rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers still leads the Ravens in targets, receptions, and receiving yards through the team’s first 12 games. However, in their last four games, Beckham Jr. was the team’s most productive pass-catcher, outproducing Flowers in targets (26-19), catches (21-14), and receiving yards (288-152) over that span. He appears to be hitting his stride at the right time. Since he can play in the slot and out wide, there’s no telling who he’ll lineup against — but they will all have their hands full either way.

Ravens’ cornerbacks vs. Rams’ wide receivers

Los Angeles’ secondary won’t be the only ones tasked with trying to put the clamps on a talented and explosive group of wideouts. Thankfully, Baltimore is much better equipped to accomplish that goal given their wealth of starting caliber depth at corner.

The Rams have a trio of dynamic receivers who can generate big plays in a multitude of ways. The group is headlined by All-Pro and former receiving triple crown winner Cooper Kupp and rookie sensation Puka Nucua, who leads all first-year wideouts in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. They also have third-year speedster Tutu Atwell, who can stretch the field vertically as well as horizontally. Veteran Demarcus Robinson is a reliable possession receiver who just so happened to play in Charm City last season.

“The things that pop off the screen to me that are unique to most teams is these guys do it all, so they have our respect,” Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald said. They throw their hat in there on the run game. They’re basically used like an extension of the tight ends in the run game; all the formations are very condensed. Not all receivers are willing to do that and do it effectively. They’re able to do that. It’s very unselfish of them, which speaks to their program and how they operate there.

Ravens’ third-year pro Brandon Stephens has been a shutdown corner during his breakout season despite being the most targeted player at his position. All signs are pointing toward three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey making his return following a two-game absence due to a calf injury. Humphrey was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. They also have quality depth behind them as well as in the nickel spot with veterans Arthur Maulet, Rock Ya-Sin, and Ronald Darby.

Ravens pass rush vs. Rams pass protection

Even though Baltimore was on a bye in Week 13, their 47 sacks in 12 games still lead the league. Their potent pass rush will be well-rested and ready to get back on the hunt this week. While the Rams’ starting offensive line is far from a star-studded lineup, they have improved over the course of the season. With some assistance from the scheme and the occasional additional blocker, they’ve managed to yield the fourth-fewest sacks in the league with just 22.

However, Rams’ head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is a renowned gunslinger and likes to get the ball out quickly, have yet to faceoff against Macdonald. Macdonald is becoming renowned for his creative and deceptive pressure packages.

Sunday will truly be a masterclass of chess match between two brilliant young coaches, but this isn’t the first time that Macdonald is facing off with a fellow wunderkind. His unit had their three most complete performances against the likes of Ben Johnson and the Detroit Lions in Week 7 (38-6), Shane Waldron and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9 (37-3), and Kellen Moore and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12 (20-10).

“It’s definitely a big challenge of what you’re trying to take away at any given moment,” Macdonald said. “So, [the Rams] do it just as good as anybody in the league, and a lot of it looks the same with the guys, so a lot of it comes down to our communication, diagnosing the play and then obviously handling our responsibilities. But with the formations that they create and staying in the same personnel, it’s a little bit unique compared to a lot of teams that we’ve played this year.”

DB Kyle Hamilton vs. RB Kyren Williams

These two second-year pros played together for three years at Notre Dame from 2019-2021 and are now dynamic weapons in the NFL. Hamilton has been the Ravens’ most consistently impactful defender and is at his best playing near the line of scrimmage. The Rams are 5-3 in games that Williams has played and 1-3 without him. When he’s healthy, he has scored one or more touchdowns in six of his eight games.

“He can pass [protect] if you need him to, he’s obviously going to run the ball, [and] he’s a great pass catcher out of the backfield,” Hamilton said. “I think we’re going to go harder than we were before, because we’re going to have bragging rights in the group chat. He’s a great guy [and] a great player. I’m glad to see him doing well this year.”

Since the return of veteran safety Marcus Williams to the lineup, Hamilton has spent more time in the box where he blitzes, comes crashing down in run support, and blowup screens behind the line of scrimmage. Williams is a three-down running back who runs and catches the ball, as well as pass protects. Therefore, he and Hamilton will likely be seeing a lot of each other whether it’s in coverage, the backfield, in open space, or pass protection.