The Ravens (8-7) badly need a win to boost their playoff odds, but they’ll be hard-pressed to find matchup advantages against the Los Angeles Rams (11-4 ). Here’s who has the edge in each phase:
Ravens passing game vs. Rams pass defense
The Ravens will go into another crucial game with uncertainty at quarterback after veteran Josh Johnson served as an emergency starter in their 41-21 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Johnson filled in ably (28 for 40, 304 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) for backup Tyler Huntley, who went on the reserve/COVID-19 list last Saturday but returned to practice Thursday. Starter Lamar Jackson has not played since he hobbled off the field with an ankle injury in the second quarter of the team’s Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. He returned to practice, with a pronounced limp, Wednesday but did not practice Thursday. The Ravens have relied on shorter, quicker throws with Huntley and Johnson at quarterback, but Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews has remained their No. 1 option regardless. Andrews (93 catches on 132 targets, 1187 yards, 9 touchdowns) is on his way to the greatest receiving season in team history, needing 15 yards and 11 catches to set new single-season records. He has surpassed 100 yards three games in a row. Marquise Brown (85 catches on 130 targets, 953 yards) could reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his three-year career but has served as more of an underneath target with Huntley and Johnson in place of Jackson. With Devin Duvernay hurt and Sammy Watkins limited against the Bengals, James Proche II took advantage of an increased workload with 7 catches on 8 targets for 76 yards.
The Ravens offensive line, with Patrick Mekari back at right tackle, did a solid job protecting Johnson, limiting Cincinnati’s talented defensive front to one sack and five quarterback hits. That group will face a unique challenge this week from Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits), perhaps the greatest interior pass rusher in NFL history. The Ravens limited Donald to 1 tackle and no quarterback hits when they blew out the Rams in 2019, but even if they keep him from wrecking the game, they will have to deal with other formidable pass rushers in defensive tackle Greg Gaines and outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller. The Rams rank 10th in the league in blitz percentage and fifth in sacks with 42. They also have an elite cornerback in Jalen Ramsey (3 interceptions, 14 passes defended), so the Ravens will have their hands full no matter who lines up behind center.
Rams passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has generally flourished (4,339 yards, 36 touchdowns, 8.1 yards per attempt) in his first season with the Rams, ranking fourth in ESPN’s QBR measure of all-around performance. At age 33, Stafford still likes to throw downfield, ranking seventh in intended air yards per attempt, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. He has developed a remarkable symbiosis with No. 1 wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who leads the league with 132 receptions, 1,734 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches. Kupp has raised his game late in the season with 497 receiving yards over his past four games, all Rams victories. The Ravens gave Green Bay Packers superstar Davante Adams extraordinary attention in coverage in Week 15, and they might have to do the same to limit Kupp.
Stafford has dangerous secondary targets in Van Jefferson (16.1 yard per catch) and Odell Beckham Jr., but the Rams miss veteran Robert Woods, who’s out for the season. Their offensive line has done a solid job protecting Stafford (24 sacks), who will take aim at a Ravens secondary that hit rock bottom against the Bengals. Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns in that debacle, shrugging off pressure to connect on explosive play after explosive play. Football Outsiders deemed it the worst defensive performance of the year as measured by DVOA. The Ravens will receive help from cornerbacks Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith and safety Geno Stone, who tested off the reserve/COVID-19 list. But they could be without top remaining cornerback Anthony Averett, who suffered a rib injury in Cincinnati. They will have a full collection of edge rushers after Tyus Bowser and Justin Houston exited the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Ravens rank 32nd in pass defense and given the decimated state of their roster, they will be hard-pressed to find answers against Stafford and Kupp.
Ravens running game vs. Rams run defense
Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman combined for just 29 yards on 11 carries against the Bengals, who did not have to treat Johnson as a running threat on par with Huntley or Jackson, who both average 5.8 yards per attempt. The Ravens have dropped to fifth in the league in rushing and have not dominated a game on the ground since they rolled up 247 rushing yards against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9.
They will face a defense that has limited opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. Donald (71 tackles) is just as good against the run as he is against the pass, and A’Shawn Robinson is a nasty sidekick on the interior. The Rams’ edge defenders have done their jobs limiting explosive plays to the outside.
Rams running game vs. Ravens run defense
Sony Michel ran for 131 yards in the Rams’ Week 16 victory over the Vikings, and they have relied on the former Patriot as their No. 1 back during their current four-game winning streak. Michel supplanted Darrell Henderson, who suffered a knee sprain against the Vikings and won’t play in Baltimore. Rams coach Sean McVay said running back Cam Akers could play for the first time this season after his remarkably rapid recovery from a torn Achilles tendon.
The Ravens, meanwhile, lead the league in rush defense despite the uncertain status of their best interior lineman, Calais Campbell, who played just 14 defensive snaps over the past three weeks because of a thigh injury. Linebacker Patrick Queen has stepped up over the second half of the season and leads the Ravens with 92 tackles and 10 tackles for loss.
Ravens special teams vs. Rams special teams
The Ravens rank first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 29 of 31 field-goal attempts and is headed for his third straight Pro Bowl. The Ravens missed Duvernay (ankle), who made the Pro Bowl as a returner, against the Bengals, averaging just 15.3 yards on four kickoff returns.
The Rams have also excelled on special teams, ranking fifth in DVOA thanks to standout work from kicker Matt Gay (31-for-32 on field-goal attempts, 4-for-4 from beyond 50 yards) and a solid net advantage in punt returns/coverage.
Ravens intangibles vs. Rams intangibles
The Ravens know their playoff hopes will dwindle if they cannot find a way to beat the Rams at home. They have lost four in a row and are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season. Their roster is in tatters, though they will be healthier than they were against the Bengals.
The Rams, meanwhile, have won four in a row and clinched a playoff berth. They might be the less desperate team, but they are still fighting for a divisional title and playoff positioning. They received a bit of bad news when the NFL shifted the game from 4:25 p.m. to 1 p.m., not ideal for a team traveling from the West Coast. But all other signs are pointing up as they head for a fourth postseason in five years under McVay.
It’s difficult to find a significant advantage for the Ravens against a hot Rams team that excels in all three phases of the game and is loaded with stars. Can a decimated defense hold up better against Matthew Stafford than it did against Joe Burrow? Can Lamar Jackson return to save the day? The Ravens have too many big questions to answer as they cling to fading playoff hopes. Rams 31, Ravens 23