The Las Vegas Raiders are set to take the National stage tonight on Monday Night Football tonight. There would be seldom few matchups that would be a better test for this newly revamped defense than Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense.
Meanwhile, the offense has a big test ahead of it as several new faces will take the field for this unit, including some players with limited NFL experience.
Let’s examine two simple things to watch on both sides of the ball.
The offensive line in particular is a question mark, with only 75 career starts between the five presumptive starters now that Richie Incognito will miss the game. The Ravens defense is an odd-front base team, meaning there are three big ugly gentlemen clogging lanes on the inside. The combination of Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell, and Brandon Williams weigh over 930 pounds and pose a tough task for offensive lines who want to get push in the run game. Andre James will have his hands full blocking Williams at Nose Guard, one of the most under-heralded defensive stars in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are absent stud edge rushers. Yannick Ngakoue (to the Raiders) and Matt Judon (to the Patriots) each left in free agency and now the team is using an aging Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee to provide an edge rush. While those players are solid on their own, the Ravens want more pressure and will send as many blitzes at the Raiders as they will see this year. The new faces on the offensive line will need to communicate effectively to pick up all the different pressures they will see from the Ravens defense, especially if they are unable to run the ball effectively.
Keys for OL: Provide a push in run game, pick up blitzes
Now there are many things that could potentially happen on defense, but it all boils down to being able to do one thing, and one thing well: TACKLING.
The starters on defense aside from Johnathan Abram and Trevon Moehrig didn’t see a single pre-season snap and this Baltimore team is not the team you can afford to be rusty against in the tackling department. The Ravens scheme puts defenders all over the field into run/pass conflicts and keeping your eyes right is a challenge for even the best defenses. First downs and points are bound to happen, but back-breaking plays can be limited as long the Raiders defenders can bring the ball carrier to the ground when they get a hand on him.
The defenders who will have to face off against Jackson the most on defense will be SS Abram, WLB Cory Littleton, SLB KJ Wright, and NCB Nate Hobbs. These players simply must must make open field tackles when they get the opportunity. You limit big gains against this defense and the chance of winning dramatically improves.