Fresh off a 24-22 loss to the Browns in Cleveland, the Ravens (8-5) enter Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. game at M&T Bank Stadium against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers (10-3) with many question marks, most notably at quarterback. Starter Lamar Jackson’s status is unclear as he recovers from an ankle sprain, which could pave the way for backup Tyler Huntley to get his second career start. Here’s who has the edge in each phase:
Ravens passing game vs. Packers pass defense
We don’t know who will play quarterback for the Ravens after Lamar Jackson limped off the field with a sprained ankle in the second quarter of their 24-22 loss to the Browns. Jackson and the offense were off to another slow start when backup Tyler Huntley stepped in. Though Huntley took two sacks and fumbled twice, with one of those returned for a touchdown, he rallied the Ravens to within two points in the fourth quarter, completing 27 of 38 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Mark Andrews was his top target, catching 11 passes on 11 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown. Andrews (75 catches on 109 targets, 926 yards) seems headed for his second career Pro Bowl. Rookie Rashod Bateman also broke out against the Browns with seven catches on eight targets, including a pair of explosive plays to set up touchdowns. Wide receiver Marquise Brown (70 catches on 107 targets, 826 yards) remains the team’s other top weapon, no matter who’s throwing the passes. Tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips struggled again in pass protection against the Browns. Cleveland defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (3 ½ sacks, 13 quarterback hits) blew past Phillips for a key sack when the Ravens had a chance at a game-winning drive in the last two minutes. Starting right tackle Patrick Mekari (hand) returned to practice Wednesday, which should help.
With former Raven Za’Darius Smith still out because of a back injury, the Packers don’t have a pass rusher as intimidating as the Browns’ Myles Garrett, but they have a pair of productive edge defenders in Rashan Gary (6 ½ sacks, 21 quarterback hits) and Preston Smith (7 sacks, 13 quarterback hits). Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell is a dangerous playmaker both as a blitzer and in coverage. The Packers rank ninth in pass defense and have limited opponents to 5.8 yards per attempt. Their best interior pass rusher, Kenny Clark, went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday.
Packers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Despite vaccination controversies and an ailing toe, Aaron Rodgers (67.3% completions, 27 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) remains an MVP candidate at age 38. He has led the Packers to 112 points and averaged 344 yards passing with no interceptions over his past three games. He has taken just 24 sacks (compared with 47 for Ravens quarterbacks) despite playing behind an offensive line decimated by injuries. His top receiver, Davante Adams (90 catches on 128 targets, 1,204 yards), might be the best in the NFL. He’s the league’s highest-graded wide receiver, according to Pro Football Focus. Rodgers throws frequently to his running backs, A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones, who have combined for 67 catches and 589 yards. That’s bad news for the Ravens, who have struggled to cover backs all season.
The Ravens will try to contain Adams with a patched-together secondary led by cornerbacks Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young after Chris Westry was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Ravens did a fine job in Cleveland after a few early struggles against quarterback Baker Mayfield, holding the Browns to 47 passing yards in the second half. On the other hand, the Ravens have produced just one sack over their past two games. They rank third in the league in blitz percentage and 10th in pressures per drop-back, according to Pro Football Focus. Tyus Bowser (5 ½ sacks, 13 quarterback hits) and Justin Houston (4 sacks, 16 quarterback hits) are their most productive edge rushers.
Ravens running game vs. Packers run defense
The Ravens had to throw to get back in the game against the Browns, but Devonta Freeman (13 carries, 64 yards) strengthened his hold on the No. 1 running back job. Huntley isn’t Jackson — nobody is as a runner — but he’s plenty elusive in his own right and gained 45 yards on six carries against the Browns. Though the Ravens rank third in the league in rushing and sixth in yards per attempt, they have given no indication they will batter opponents into submission as they did down the stretch last season.
The Packers rank ninth in run defense but have allowed opponents to average 4.5 yards per carry and rank 24th in rush defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Campbell leads the Packers in tackles, and safety Adrian Amos (Calvert Hall) is an outstanding run defender from the back end. Green Bay lacks a dominant interior run defender, however.
Packers running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Packers rank 20th in rushing and yards per attempt. They rely almost equally on Jones (599 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Dillon (614 yards, 2 touchdowns) and rarely abandon their running game, even when it’s not producing explosive plays.
The Ravens faced a taller task in Cleveland and held the Browns’ powerful ground game to just 3.4 yards per carry. They did it largely without their best interior run defender, Calais Campbell, who injured his thigh early in the first quarter. Linebacker Patrick Queen leads the team in tackles after he was in danger of becoming a part-time player early in the season. His partnership with middle linebacker Josh Bynes has shored up the defense as a whole.
Ravens special teams vs. Packers special teams
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The Ravens still rank first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker made field-goal attempts of 50, 42 and 55 yards in Cleveland and has made 28 of 30 overall in another remarkable season. Devin Duvernay is one of the league’s most dangerous returners, with a 14.4-yard average on punts and a 24.2-yard average on kickoffs.
That’s bad news for the Packers, who gave up 259 return yards in their Week 14 victory over the Chicago Bears and rank last in special teams DVOA. Kicker Mason Crosby has made just 19 of 28 field-goal attempts, with eight misses between 30 and 49 yards.
Ravens intangibles vs. Packers intangibles
The Ravens cannot get away from their injury woes, and with Jackson’s ankle a source of uncertainty, they’re in danger of losing their grip on first place in the AFC North. Coach John Harbaugh often draws rousing efforts from the Ravens when they are clear underdogs, but they have rarely entered a home game so clearly outgunned.
The Packers have not dominated opponents as thoroughly as their 10-3 record might suggest, but they draw tremendous confidence from Rodgers, who’s still playing like an all-time great. They’re 36-9 in the regular season with coach Matt LaFleur. On the plus side for the Ravens, all three of Green Bay’s losses have come on the road.
The Ravens have lost two in a row and began the week uncertain who would play quarterback against the Packers, who are competing for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. Lamar Jackson vs. Aaron Rodgers should be a glamour matchup; instead, the Ravens are legitimate underdogs at home. They’ll use their advantages in the run game and on special teams to keep this close, but Rodgers will do what he needs to do in the end. Packers 28, Ravens 23