4 key matchups to watch during Raiders-Ravens

Can the Ravens' D-line handle Osemele and Penn? Sam Monson previews this matchup and more.

| 3 weeks ago
Kelechi Osemele

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

4 key matchups to watch during Raiders-Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are 3-0 and sit atop the AFC North with a game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers, largely thanks to defensive play that has limited opposition to 20 points or under in each of the Ravens’ three games so far.

This week, Baltimore will host the Oakland Raiders, who may test that defensive success. Though they managed just 17 points against Tennessee, the Raiders have been impressive on offense so far this season, and are averaging 436 yards of total offense per game, second-most in the league. Their 6.7 yards per play is also second (trailing the Falcons in both categories), despite limiting themselves repeatedly with penalties, racking up a league-leading 31 flags on offense for 257 yards.

Perhaps the most interesting battle between these two teams will take place up front. Baltimore’s defensive front has been formidable, especially against the run, but they will be coming up against one of the best offensive lines in the game, and a team that has averaged 148.3 rushing yards so far this season.

Raiders offensive line

The left side of the Raiders’ offensive line, in particular, has contributed to the run game in a major way, with Kelechi Osemele justifying his free-agent price tag, and Donald Penn remaining a quality player, despite advancing age (he’s now 33 years old). Oakland has recorded 283 of its 445 yards rushing to the left side of the line so far this season. They will be up against Baltimore linemen Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, and defensive stalwart Terrell Suggs, each of whom is extremely tough against the run.

Take this run against Jacksonville as a pretty good example of how physically imposing that trio can be:

Ravens defense

They are actually lined up on the right side of the offensive line on this play, but both Williams on the nose and Suggs at outside linebacker cave in their blockers. Jernigan doesn’t have as much success on engagement with RG A.J. Cann, but looks to be shedding that block as the run approaches.

The battle between these two units should be entertaining for anybody who is a big fan of tough football in the trenches.

Three other key matchups

WR Amari Cooper and WR Michael Crabtree vs. Baltimore cornerbacks

The Raiders have both Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper performing well so far this season. Each has over 230 yards and 15 catches through three games, and they are both closing in on 30 targets for the season. Cooper is definitely the big-play threat of the two, but Crabtree has been a safer pair of hands and a fine possession option within the offense. Between the two, they form a very tough matchup problem for the Ravens’ coverage that hasn’t had exceptional cornerback play thus far.

Ravens CBs Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright have been targeted a combined 41 times through three games, and have surrendered 28 catches (68.3 percent) for 291 yards and four touchdowns. QBs targeting the pair have a passer rating of 121.1 so far this season. Neither has an interception, and they have broken up just one pass between them; now in Week 4, they’ll face one of the league’s better wideout tandems.

QB Joe Flacco vs. Oakland secondary

Don’t look now, but Joe Flacco is actually playing pretty well. He’s currently PFF’s eighth-highest graded QB, with a mark of 82.2—a notable bump from 74.7 a year ago, which saw him rank 27th in the league. His raw statistics don’t look great this season, but his play has been far better when you turn on the tape. He has made far more of the big plays that he’s struggled with in the past to offset some of the poor throws he continues to make.

Oakland, though, has suddenly caught fire in the secondary, with CBs David Amerson and Sean Smith both earning a spot on our team of the week for their performance against the Titans.

Amerson is currently PFF’s top-graded CB, with a 92.5 overall grade, while Smith is busy climbing back up the rankings after being taken to the cleaners by Brandin Cooks on opening weekend. Rookie safety Karl Joseph saw his first action last week and looked an immediate upgrade; that corresponded with Reggie Nelson posting the best grade of his season with a new partner in the deep secondary.

Flacco has attempted a deep pass (traveling 20+ yards in the air air) on 13.4 percent of his throws this season, one of the 10-most aggressive rates in the league—a likely indicator that he’ll test this Oakland secondary deep. Baltimore has speed in their receiving corps to hurt them on those passes, so how well the Raiders hold up could be the difference in big plays and points.

OLB Khalil Mack vs. LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Ricky Wagner

He hasn’t been the same player from a year ago, but Khalil Mack is still a formidable opponent for any tackle, especially a rookie. Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley has been solid, if not quite up to the standard he set over preseason. So far he has surrendered a sack, QB hit, and seven QB hurries, as well as being flagged three times over three games. On the other side, Wagner has looked back to something like his 2014 best, making his 2015 disaster season look something like an anomaly. He has allowed a sack and four hurries over three games, with no penalties to his name, but has not quite matched his solid pass protection with his performance in the run game.

Mack hasn’t been the same dominant force as a year ago, but he is still a threat as both a pass rusher and run blocker. He has yet to record a sack, but does have nine total pressures, and has been solid as a run defender, posting four defensive stops and still wrecking blocks at the point of attack to disrupt the run. Will we see the old Mack this week? If not, will the two Baltimore tackles be able to deal with the 2016 version? Both will likely see plenty of Mack, as he has split his time this season between the left and right side of the line, lining up outside of the left tackle 74 times and outside of the right 106.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • jdg3

    Mack will show up in week 4.

    The subtitle of this game will be one of the following:

    The Mack Menace
    Attack of the Mack
    Revenge of the Mack
    A new Mack
    The Mack strikes back
    Return of the Mack
    The Mack Awakens

    • Vitor

      I’d rather call it

      The lord of the sacks: the return of the Doom

      • creative_dude

        Yeah, either that or : The Mack attack fell asleep again.

  • Mike_Trail

    They forgot to mention that the Ravens are totally 1 dimensional..They cannot run the ball to save their lives. Flacco is going to have to pass 50 times in this game.

    • Patrick Fouhy

      VERY good point. The Raven’s running game has been a joke. Doesn’t mean the Raider D should sleep on them though. Forset is good, no matter what his numbers say, and the Raiders are known for getting torched by screens.

      If the Raiders jump out ahead early and force Baltimore to play catch up, the pass rush can really “pin it’s ears back” (to quote Tuck from a few years ago) and get after Flacco.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Ravens run game isn’t great but the Raiders can’t stop the run to save their lives. They are giving up rush yardage at 5.1 a pop which ties them with the Lions for worst in the league.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Having predicted the Raiders would reach the playoffs I should be confident they will win here but the Ravens are playing much better than I expected. I have some doubt’s that the Raider secondary will play up to last week’s level but of greater concern is that since 2010 the Raiders have played 17 early games in the Eastern time zone winning only once (last season at Cleveland).

    • Mike Riley

      I wouldn’t worry about that stat. A lot of those games were played by some really Shitty Raiders teams. Most of the men on this roster had nothing to do w/ those games. They are 2-0 this season in early starts & going back to last year always play better on the road. Also the Ravens run defense has proven susceptible. They haven’t played an offensive line like the Raiders’ yet. I can’t predict a win but I don’t see the Ravens simply showing up & blowing them out or even controlling the game flow.

      • LJC

        Murray, Richard and Washington should go to the races.

      • crosseyedlemon

        The sportsbooks are predicting a close game and I think it will be. A late turnover or mistake will likely decide it. Some good matchups to watch as Sam stated in the article.
        Statistically, all one sided trends should balance out more evenly over time so we will see if this one begins working back in favor of the Raiders now that they have the best team they have had in many years.

        • Mike Riley

          The pass rush of the Ravens vs the Raiders is easily the best they’ve faced all season. They have been able to pick up the blitz efficiently but I don’t think we’ve seen a pass rush that gets after it like the Ravens have since Suggs has been healthy. Elvis Dumerville also coming back this week should help their depth. If I’m Bill Musgrave I’m putting the offense in Carr’s hands & running no huddle most of the day unless we have a lead in the 4th. Negate their depth upfront which really is much improved from even last year when they couldn’t sniff a sack vs us.

  • geo2209

    hayden on smitty is a matchup i’m going to all day if I was flacco.

  • Patrick Fouhy

    This game will either be a blow out, or a shoot out. I think the Raiders offense is too much for Baltimore’s D. The question will be, how many points will the Raiders Defense give up? Oakland should score 30 points at least. Don’t let the week 3 game against the Titans fool you, Tennessee’s defense wasn’t stopping the Raiders, the Raiders’ offense stopped the Raiders. That game should have been a blow out, few mental mistakes by receivers, and one bad pass by Carr prevented them from at least 2 more TD’s in that game.

    Raider’s offense bounces back, puts up a big day. Can the Baltimore offense keep up? Or will the Raider’s D step up again? That’s what it’ll come down to.