What to watch for: Ravens at Raiders

The Raiders need redemption against a perennial contender after getting smashed by another to open the year.

The Ravens are a similar team to the Bengals, better on defense though, and a little less ferocious on offense. Similar in a lot of ways, though, and operate similar gameplans.

The key for Oakland will be getting their pass rush game up. Oakland defenders and head coach Jack Del Rio cited Andy Dalton‘s quick release being a factor in week one, though the onus can be placed on the secondary for that.

The entire defense needs to step it up, and Flacco is far more experienced and one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the NFL.

The good news for Oakland is that Baltimore’s offensive line has not shown they’re the best unit in the league, as they were in 2014. An obvious caveat being that Denver’s pass rush, who the Ravens faced in the opener, is also very good.

The same could be said for the Raiders — Khalil Mack being a premier player, with Justin Tuck and a more groomed Aldon Smith present a ton of problems for Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

A major opportunity presents itself for Oakland, the ability to have Mack revert to linebacker and have Smith and Tuck play true defensive end. Same for Smith at linebacker.

Getting those three players on the edge would be a major personnel advantage for Oakland. Particularly against a team with an offensive line that graded -23.6 overall to open the season, grades courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Baltimore right tackle Ricky Wagner was the lowest graded at -10.4 overall, allowing four quarterback hurries.

Left tackle James Hurst, who stepped in for Eugene Monroe after the starter suffered a concussion, allowed seven hurries, two quarterback hits, and one sack. Awful numbers.

And in six snaps, Monroe earned a -1.6 grade from Pro Football Focus.

Flacco only had 2.5 seconds to throw the ball against Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in week one, and the Oakland pass rush is just as good.

The key in the two teams, Baltimore and Cincinnati, tight end Tyler Eifert managed to defeat Oakland’s coverage concepts, more poignantly, Eifert ripped them to shreds.

Ravens tight end Crockett Gilmore isn’t the athlete Eifert is. He’s not as fast, not as quick, not nearly the same talent as a receiver. And their backup, rookie Maxx Williams, is developmentally flawed this early in his career.

The Raiders shouldn’t face the same issues.

Factor in Baltimore’s decimated receiving corps — they lost Torrey Smith in the offseason, rookie Breshad Perriman has been dealing with a sprained knee, and Steve Smith is the only true receiving threat on the team.

That’s another matchup the Raiders win big on, at least the paper matchup.

The Ravens secondary is among the league’s best, though, and for second year quarterback Derek Carr, this one gets tricky. He’ll likely be under duress on fewer dropbacks than in week one, though Baltimore is sure to keep him a little uncomfortable.

Oakland will need to have success underneath in order to get to cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Will Hill. Both are highly talented players and are keys to the Ravens’ success.

And the Raiders will need to win those matchups to win the day. There’s no avoiding the two, though running underneath routes with Mychal Rivera and Amari Cooper is a likely concept the Raiders will employ.

They can chip away early, and ideally, catch Hill playing the run on a well executed play action pass. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if this sort of play became a notable part of the game.

If the Raiders struggle going over the top, then it’s going to be a loss. It’s hard to fathom Oakland scoring once without being able to complete a deep pass or two.

The only way they don’t, and still win, would probably come on a defensive touchdown.

Injury report

Defensive tackle Justin Ellis, defensive end Benson Mayowa and fullback Jamize Olawale have been ruled out, while safety Charles Woodson is questionable and quarterback Derek Carr is probable and prepared to start.

Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver Breshad Perriman have been ruled out, cornerback Rashaad Melvin is questionable, running backs Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro are probable, as is defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

Final Verdict

I don’t have the Raiders winning this one. Sorry, fans, but I can’t butter it up and let you down. But even with a loss, there can be positive signs.

The Raiders have an opportunity to fight hard, and that goes a long way. Especially when a game is out of hand. There offensive line gets another chance to polish things up.

That’s huge considering whats expected of the Raiders receiving corps.

The wide outs are also in a spot where they have to be precise, as does Carr. Any minor mistake will end in a turnover. Baltimore’s secondary is one that begs precision out of its opponents.

Score: 17-3 Baltimore wins


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.