clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ravens vs. Colts potential X factors: Interior defensive pressure will be paramount

This AFC conference clash could be decided by key contributions from handful of players in all three phases.

Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will be back in town in Week 3, where they will host the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. They are heading into the matchup as hefty favorites against the first Charm City franchise who notched a win over the Houston Texans in Week 2.

In almost every game, there is a play or two made that helps swing the momentum back into a team’s favor or extend their lead to put an opponent away for good. There are a handful of select players who aren’t being talked about as much ahead of this game but could be pivotal in determining the outcome.

Below are a handful of those individual players that may prove to be deciding factors.

DT Michael Pierce

NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

With three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly ruled out, the Colts are expected to have veteran Gardner Minshew under a backup center on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is inactive with a concussion. Going up against more of a traditional yet still dangerous pocket passer instead of the dual-threat first-year pro means that generating interior pressure will be paramount this week.

Pierce has made tremendous strides in his ability to rush the passer and collapse the pocket up the middle in recent years. Health has been the only hurdle that has kept him from showing it off more. He has played nearly 60 percent of the Ravens’ total defensive snaps through the first two games of the season and will be key to making sure Minshew can’t step up into the pocket to avoid the perimeter pass rush.

According to Pro Football Focus, his three pressures are the fourth most on the team through two games and the second most among their defensive linemen.

Another interior defensive lineman to keep an eye on is second-year pro Travis Jones. He is the primary backup at both nose tackle and three-technique/defensive tackle behind fourth-year pro Justin Madubuike, who will have a tough matchup against three-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson.

WR Nelson Agholor

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The nine-year veteran is coming off his best game as a Raven in Week 2. He was stepping up even before three-time Pro Bowl wideout Odell Beckham Jr. went down with an ankle injury and made several clutch grabs afterward. Agholor finished as the team’s leader in receiving yards and receptions with five catches for 63 yards.

Even though first-round rookie Zay Flowers seems to have already established himself as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Agholor could be in store for another big game with Beckham Jr. being ruled out after missing practice all week.

His strong connection with quarterback Lamar Jackson has been apparent dating back to the offseason program. That chemistry was on full display against the Bengals this past week. Jackson trusted him in several crucial conversion situations, including a third down just inside the red zone that resulted in a perfectly placed touchdown strike.

“We’ve been connecting here on the field in camp, I’d say pretty much the whole offseason and it showed this past Sunday,” Jackson said Wednesday.

OLB David Ojabo

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Albert Cesare-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens will be without their top pass rusher this week after ruling out 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 2. With his former high school teammate not available, Ojabo will need to join forces with three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney to make up for Oweh’s absence on edge as a consistently disruptive force.

The former second-round pick is an explosive pass rusher who can beat offensive tackles with his speed and bend around the edge of the defense. Since the Ravens’ defense will have a more stationary target to corral in Minshew, expect to see the 2022 second-rounder generating a lot of pressure on extensive pass rush opportunities. He could be especially effective on stunts and twists, where he starts outside and loops around to rush up the middle. He did this in Week 1 and logged a strip-sack and quarterback hit.

RB Gus Edwards

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The sixth-year veteran bruiser is the last man standing from the top three running backs that the Ravens opened the season. Justice Hill has been ruled out with a toe injury he suffered in Week 2 that caused him to miss the week of practice. Thankfully, Edwards has proven during the first five years of his career that he is more than capable of carrying a heavy workload when called upon. He will likely do so again come Sunday.

Although the Ravens called up both Melvin Gordon and the recently re-signed Kenyan Drake from the practice squad, it will most certainly be Edwards who receives the lion’s share of the total offensive snaps.

The 28-year-old is a physical tone-setter and one the shining models of consistency for yards per carry efficiency. He has an average of 5.2 yards an attempt through two games this year, which is also the average for his career through 54 games. His 94 rushing yards and seven rushing first downs currently lead the team and he’s found the end zone twice already; once on a touchdown last week and the other on a successful two-point conversion in the season opener.

In addition to being an excellent short-yardage and goal-line battering ram, Edwards has swift footwork and great vision to find rushing lanes. The Ravens will be without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and second-year starting center Tyler Linderbaum for the second week in a row due to injury. However, that didn’t stop the “Gus Bus” and friends from rolling their way to victory against the Bengals — and likely won’t again when they face the Colts.

CB Brandon Stephens

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

For the third week in a row, the Ravens will be without three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey as he continues to recover from foot surgery. That means their No. 1 corner will be Stephens yet again, which isn’t necessarily a bad situation to be in considering how well he has played.

The third-year pro has been on the field for 100 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps through two games and has been lights out and a near-shutdown presence on the perimeter. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been targeted just four times in single coverage on 30 passing snaps and has only yielded two receptions for 19 receiving yards, forced an incompletion, and allowed an opposing passer rating of 63.5.

Last week, he led the joint effort that held Bengal’ two-time Pro Bowl wideout Ja’Marr Chase out of the end zone and limited him to just five receptions for 31 receiving yards. Against the Colts this week, his assignment will be fourth-year receiver Michael Pittman Jr. who leads the team in targets (23), receptions (16), and receiving yards (153) through two games.

After Richardson exited their Week 2 game in the second quarter, Pittman Jr. recorded 44 of his 56 receiving yards, nine of his 12 targets, and all but one of his eight catches from Minshew. So, he will likely continue to be the Colts’ most popular target on Sunday.