By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football for their week one game. Let’s dive into the game. It’s time to put on our defensive coordinator hat and think of the three things the Ravens need to be mindful of against the Raiders.
3. Bend but don’t break
Derek Carr doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done for the Raiders. He’s had over 4,000 yards three seasons in a row. In that streak, Carr’s lowest quarterback rating for a season was 93.9. Carr isn’t a bad quarterback. Josh Jacobs is a good running back. Darren Waller is the play-maker we always thought he could be and the Raiders aren’t a pushover team. Do I think the Ravens have the defensive firepower to outmatch them? Absolutely. I just don’t think it’s a Super Bowl XXXV-style game where the Ravens make the opposing offense completely useless.
The key is keeping the Raiders out of the end zone and keeping everything in front of white jerseys with purple numbers. Last season Nelson Agholor and Henry Ruggs both had over 17 yards per reception. Waller had 1,196 receiving yards and Jacobs had 1,303 total yards from scrimmage. The Raiders have some talent that can put points on the board. In 2020, the Raiders put up 30 points or more eight times and won seven of those games.
Red zone defense is going to be imperative in this game. Points are what will sustain the Raiders, not yards. If the pass rushers give the hoped-for amount of pass rush, this isn’t a game where the Ravens will have to do a lot of blitzing. The defensive front of the Ravens has more going for it than the offensive line of the Raiders does. Instead of Martindale being blitz-heavy, look for well-timed blitzes to be what gets the Ravens stops in the red zone.
2. Take the football away:
Last year the Raiders were minus 11 in the turnover ratio. That’s incredible considering that their quarterback only had nine interceptions on the year. Ever since Jon Gruden returned to the sideline, the Raiders calling card has been unforced mistakes and penalties. While the Raiders were on the wrong side of the turnover ratio, the Ravens were plus four. If these teams are similar to the 2020 versions of themselves (which they are) Baltimore should have the advantage in the turnover battle.
Often when we talk about Martindale’s creativity we’re talking about the movement before the snap and different looks and stunts that create pressure on the quarterback. In this game, Martindale is going up against a veteran quarterback who hasn’t had more than 13 interceptions in a season. Look for Martindale’s mastery of this game to be the way he calls his pass coverage. Look for him to switch up his coverage schemes and for the Ravens to generate a turnover by trapping Carr into a bad throw.
If that doesn’t work, there is always knocking the ball out. Forced fumbles could be a strength of the Baltimore Ravens this season. In the preseason the Ravens had a game against the New Orleans Saints where they had three interceptions and forced three fumbles. Marlon Humphrey is famous for the “Fruit Punch.” Other than Peanut Tillman, it’s hard to think of a cornerback who was better at forcing fumbles than Humphrey. Come hell or high water, Baltimore needs to force the Raiders into costly mistakes with the football.
3. Don’t let Josh Jacobs get a full head of steam:
In 2020, Jacobs had over 80 rushing yards in a game four times. The Raiders won all four of those games. Jacobs had over 20 rushing attempts in six of the Raiders games last season. The Raiders won five of those games. Even in games where Jacobs is averaging slightly under four yards per carry, the more involved he is, the better it is for the Raiders. A heavy dose of Jacobs keeps Gruden’s offense honest and keeps pass rush off of Carr.
This is really something you could say every week of the season, but Baltimore needs to make the Raiders one-dimensional. They need to completely discourage the Raiders from running the football. This makes their offense much more predictable and exposes the biggest challenges for the offense.
To make this happen for the Ravens, you need the defensive line to straight up own the line of scrimmage. Brandon Williams and Derek Wolfe have to come ready for a full day of work as space eaters. Justin Madubuike needs to be disruptive and Broderick Washington needs to be immovable. With the speed and tackling capability that the Ravens have at the linebacker position, just being gap sound should do the trick. Outside contain is crucial for the outside linebackers in this game.
Bottling up Jacobs isn’t complicated. The Ravens have to play fundamentally sound defense and play assignment football. The Ravens have the players to get the job done. The only way Jacobs gets going beyond a few nice runs is if the Baltimore Ravens make fundamental mistakes on defense.