Three things to watch for as the Ravens take on the Raiders

BALTIMORE — The 5-5 Baltimore Ravens look for back-to-back wins this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when they welcome the 2-8 Oakland Raiders to town for a 1:00 kickoff.

The Ravens are fresh off the heels of a 24-21 home victory over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The win put the Ravens into the sixth seed in the AFC Playoff race and if the playoffs started today the Ravens would be heading to Foxborough for a showdown with their old friend Tom Brady.

Lamar Jackson was at the helm this past Sunday and did a great job leading a revitalized running game. Jackson carried the ball 27 times for 117 yards while fellow rookie Gus Edwards picked up 115 yards of his own on 17 carries. Throwing the ball was another story as Jackson was just 13-for-19 for 150 yards and a costly second half interception. Coach John Harbaugh was fired up in his weekly press conference regarding people’s concern that Lamar can’t throw the ball:

The game plan Sunday may have dictated a run-heavy offense or perhaps the Ravens really aren’t confident in Jackson’s ability to throw. Either way, it is a storyline to watch this Sunday.

The Ravens currently control their own destiny. In order to continue doing so, they will need to overcome a Raiders team that just picked up their second win of the year – a 23-21 win over the now 2-8 Arizona Cardinals.

Here’s what to watch for this Sunday as the Ravens look to maintain their hold on the AFC’s final playoff spot.

1) What can we expect to see from Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense?

As fired up as Harbaugh was at the press conference this Monday, anyone who watches football on a consistent basis would question Jackson’s reliability as a passer off of Sunday’s performance.

He did some great things running the ball and it would be unfair to take that away from him.  But the Ravens ran very few designed passing plays and the route tree definitely appeared to be limited against the Bengals. Jackson did, however, make some nice throws on the run and that should be applauded.

These were Jackson’s two most impressive passing plays of the day. On both plays, Jackson’s initial read is taken away from him and he continues to work through his progressions. He is poised and when the pocket begins to break down, he maneuvers around both inside and outside of the pocket to find Mark Andrews and John Brown. I think his poise was his most impressive attribute outside of his impact running the football on Sunday.

But what can we expect this week against a Raiders unit ranking 26th in total defense, 17th against the pass, 31st against the run, and 30th in points-per-game allowed? Expect more of the same from the Ravens offense this Sunday. I think that the Ravens will look to pound the ball early and often while taking very few chances with Jackson behind center. The offense is going to look really similar to the unit that racked up 265 rushing yards against the Bengals.

Here’s my concern with that. The Ravens wide receivers were frustrated with their role in the team’s offense this past Sunday. Here’s Willie Snead:

Michael Crabtree is going up against his former team this Sunday and we all know that Crabtree has a reputation of being a diva (as does every other prominent wide receiver ever). Could we see another sideline incident regarding Crabtree or another of the Ravens wideouts if the offense passes just 19 times on Sunday?

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Za’Darius Smith will be looking for his first sack since October 14th. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the defense turn up the heat?

Last week’s three things to watch for featured the Ravens defense needing to regain their form. Results would indicate that the Ravens took a step in the right direction this past Sunday against the Bengals.

The Ravens defense limited the Bengals to going 6-for-14 on third down and did a great job stifling the Bengals rushing attack to the tune of 48 yards. The pass rush still couldn’t get their sack train back on the rails as they only recorded one sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. They were, however, consistently in his face and caused Dalton to have a 19-of-36 day passing the football. They were able to record 17 hurries per Pro Football Focus.

Unfortunately, the Ravens were also unable to force any turnovers for the fourth time this season and they remain tied for 29th with just seven takeaways in 2018.

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The pass rush needs to get dancing again this weekend as elite passing offenses are on the horizon. Image Credit: Penn Live

The Raiders could be just what the doctor ordered for the Ravens’ sack-deprived pass rushing group. Oakland has surrendered 33 sacks on the season, ranking them tied for fifth worst in the NFL. Last week, the Cardinals sacked Derek Carr four times.

The pass rush group had been heralded all off-season as the defense’s deepest and most impressive unit. Now would be a good time for that group to get going because when Sunday’s contest ends, the Ravens will be gearing up to take on the NFL’s three best passing attacks in Atlanta (3rd), Kansas City (2nd), Tampa Bay (1st….huh?).

Look for three or more sacks from the Ravens’ defense this Sunday.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders

John Gruden will hope Derek Carr’s success against the Ravens can continue. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the Ravens stop Derek Freaking Carr and the Raiders offense?

Derek Carr is by no means a bum. But he is overpaid and often underwhelming. With With that being said, my goodness does he toast the Ravens in limited action against them.

Carr is 2-0 lifetime against the Ravens posting 275 yards-per-game with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He has a completion percentage of 67.9% and a passer rating of 110.6. Not too shabby.

Luckily for the Ravens, Carr has a lot less weapons in his arsenal this Sunday than he has had in the past two meetings. Gone are Crabtree and Amari Cooper, who combined to light up the Ravens’ secondary in the two prior games, to the tune of 28 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.

Enter Marcell Ateman and Seth Roberts who are currently the top two receivers in a group that has lost the aforementioned Cooper to trade, Jordy Nelson to pending retirement, Martavis Bryant to a PCL injury, and Brandon LaFell to a torn achilles. Ateman and Roberts shouldn’t strike any fear into Don Martindale and the Ravens’ secondary.

Jared Cook can create matchup problems for the Ravens in the middle of the field and is Carr’s top weapon. Cook is on pace for a career year with 45 catches 577 yards and four touchdowns to date.

Jalen Richard is a dual-threat running back but isn’t much of a threat in either faze (ask my struggling fantasy teams). Doug Martin is the bell cow back but the days of him being “The Muscle Hamster” and leading fantasy teams to glory are long gone.

The Ravens should be able to stifle this Oakland offense at every turn.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell – Ravens 38 Raiders 19

Nolan McGraw – Ravens 30 Raiders 13

Jay Stavros – Ravens 31 Raiders 17

Ian Schultz – Ravens 25 Raiders 13

If the Ravens have any hopes to stay in the playoff race they have to win this game. The Raiders will be traveling cross country for a 1:00 P.M. EST game which usually spells trouble for West Coast teams. The Ravens offense will again put up just enough points to help them emerge victorious and move to 6-5 on the season.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: Silver and Black Today

 

 

 

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