It’s been a while since it felt like the Rams were a true underdog. Particularly in the regular season.
Going to New Orleans last year? Sure, the Saints were favored in that NFC Championship Game. But we knew the Rams could win it based on the comeback they made in New Orleans during the regular season. Plus, the top-seeded Saints weren’t exactly setting the world on fire last winter.
The 2019 Ravens, however? They’re gangbusters.
Baltimore has scored 30-plus points in four straight games, and 37-plus in their last three.
This must be what it felt like to face the Rams for the better part of the last two seasons.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot.
How Baltimore Is Built
By this point, you know the Ravens have the MVP front-runner and a historically good rushing attack. But here’s a bit more detail on how they go about it, since the Rams have not faced this version of the Greg Roman – Lamar Jackson scheme.
First, they’re in the pistol more and under center less than any team in the NFL. Second, if you thought Sean McVay used pre-snap motion, wait until you see the Ravens for four quarters. They’ve taken offensive eye candy to the nth degree.
The good news for L.A. is the Rams defense is allowing 3.3 yards per rush this season, second-fewest in the NFL. Even more relevant to this matchup, they’ve been disciplined against pre-snap motion, allowing an NFL-low 2.9 yards per rush when opposing teams use it against them, according ESPN research.
Down and Distance
A couple other traits you’ll want to know when the Ravens offense is on the field: they’re superb on early downs and lethal on fourth down.
Per a Pro Football Focus deep-dive this week, Baltimore moves the chains on first-and-second down more often than any offense in the league. So, while they rarely find themselves in third down, much less fourth down, John Harbaugh has suddenly developed a reputation as one of the most data-driven decision makers in the NFL. As a result, no team has converted more 4th down attempts than the Ravens.
This may sound like stating the obvious, but for the Rams to find success defensively, they have to knock the Ravens off schedule on first down, in the hopes of eventually putting them in “fourth-and-too-much-to-go-for-it.”
Check out the team's photos as the Los Angeles practice ahead of the Monday Night Football matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12.
Eagle [Raven?] Scout
Not that it’s any surprise when a practice squad quarterback runs the scout team offense, but it did feel noteworthy when Sean McVay answered a query about who would play the role of Lamar Jackson this week.
John Wolford, of course.
Didn’t you see what he did to the Texans in late August?
Even better, Wolford actually has bragging rights, having outdueled Jackson in their college days (h/t Conor O’Neill). In October 2017, the record-setting Wake Forest quarterback orchestrated a 42-32 win over Louisville by passing for 461 yards, accounting for six total touchdowns, against just six incompletions.
So after a few days of getting carved up by the Wolford of Wall Street, the Rams defense will undoubtedly enjoy a sense of relief when it’s only the MVP front-runner across the line of scrimmage.
Unlike the 2018 Game of the Year, the Ravens and Rams may not combine for 54 points on Monday Night.
Since Week Seven, Baltimore and Los Angeles are the top two defenses in the league in defensive efficiency and points allowed. Neither has surrendered more than 20 points in five straight games, since October 3. That’s the Ravens longest such streak since six consecutive in 2010. Similarly for the Rams, who have not done six in a row since 1999.
The Old Todd
In last week’s win over Chicago, the Rams went with designed runs on 62% of plays, their highest rate in the last two years. And those plays were successful, much to the delight of Todd Gurley, in part because of a season-best 81 yards rushing before first contact, according to ESPN Research.
With a more robust receiving corps at his disposal in Week 12, and some confidence in that retooled offensive line, it will be fascinating to see McVay’s blend of play selections.
Against the Ravens, the Rams may not have as much time and score circumstances in their favor throughout Monday Night Football, as they did on Sunday Night Football a week prior.
Here are the Rams remaining opponents' offensive rating, courtesy of Football Outsiders:
BAL - 3
ARI - 9
SEA - 4
DAL - 1
SF - 16
So, yeah, L.A. is going to have to score some points before the New Year if they intend to play in January.
Another way of making the same point: Over the past four games, the Rams first-team defense has held offenses quarterbacked by Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph, and Mitchell Trubisky to 30 points…combined.
Over the next four weeks, however, they'll face a quartet that figures to stress them a bit more (and differently): Jackson, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott. Those signal-callers are currently third, tenth, first, and second in QBR.
Showdown in the Slot
It’s been an interesting couple weeks for Cooper Kupp, who in Pittsburgh was held without a catch in a game he finished, for the first time in his career. Then, after a bout with an illness between games, he served as a lead blocker for most of the win over Chicago, momentarily breaking out of that role to catch a 50-yard pass that was nearly a touchdown/touchback.
Anyway, I digress.
Kupp has 584 receiving yards from the slot this season, tied with Seattle’s Tyler Lockett for most in the NFL. Pair that with the Ravens allowing over 100 yards per game to slot receivers, and the Rams may have a matchup to exploit.
The question becomes, will Kupp see Marlon Humphrey (PFF 24) or Jimmy Smith? Or, is it possible that his biggest fan, Marcus Peters, could ask for the assignment?