The Las Vegas Raiders will start their season against the Baltimore Ravens Week 1 in a physical matchup that will feature two high-powered offenses. Both John Harbaugh and Jon Gruden run a very similar style of offense. They both utilize true fullbacks and multiple tight end sets. They both want to impose their will on the opposing team with a smashmouth style of football.
So today, we are going to look into one of the key matchups of this game for the Raiders in Week 1. On one end, you have a newly constructed offensive line of the Raiders, and on the other, you have a Baltimore Ravens defensive line that looks much different than last year.
Key Differences in Both Units
GM Mike Mayock reconstructed the Raiders offensive line. One of the issues the Raiders had last year was consistency. Starting Right Tackle Trent Brown missed 12 of 16 games last year, while his backups Sam Young and Brandon Parker were also inconsistent with their play. At the same time, the Raiders Denzelle Good was asked to play multiple different positions in 2021 due to the inconsistency of some of the backups.
Richie Incognito also missed all of 2020, so getting some players who would be consistent was essential for this upcoming team. The Raiders moved on from Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown. They plugged in their young and promising center Andre James to replace Hudson. They moved their 2020 starting LG Denzelle Good to RG to replace Jackson, and the Silver and Black drafted Alex Leatherwood in the first round to replace RT Trent Brown.
The Ravens are in a similar spot as the Raiders. Last season, the Ravens defensive ends included players such as Yannick Ngakoue, who took 657 snaps to lead the defensive line group in snaps played. He is now with the Raiders. Matthew Judon and Jihad Ward also played on the edge a ton. Both of them have also moved on from the Ravens.
On the inside, the Ravens will likely be without Derek Wolfe, who missed all five practices this week, including Saturday’s walkthrough with a back and hip injury. “It’s kind of a lingering-type deal,” coach John Harbaugh said Thursday of Wolfe’s injury. “Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.”
Wolfe led all interior DL in snaps in 2020. The Ravens lost another key contributor on the defensive line, Joe Cullen, one of the league’s best defensive line coaches. He was hired by Urban Meyer to run the Jaguars defense.
The Ravens did add two pass rushers. Former Chief Justin Houston will get the start, and 2021 first-round pick Odafe Oweh of Penn State will rotate in.
Scouting the Matchups
Andre James vs. Ravens NT Brandon Williams/Justin Ellis
The Ravens play a 34 front, which means they will have a player lined up in the zero or 1-technique on most downs. So what this means for the Raiders is that the Ravens will have someone lined up over first-time starter Andre James on every play.
The biggest matchup of this game comes on the inside between NT Brandon Williams and Andre James. The Ravens could also activate NT Justin Ellis from the practice squad for this game if they’re without Derek Wolfe. This will allow Williams to play as a DE in the 34 front and Ellis as a NT.
Either way, the Raiders new center in Week 1 will likely play against Brandon Williams, so he will have to be able to hook Williams on zone-run plays.
Williams is known as a player who doesn’t allow centers to hook and turn him. He is a player who uses his strength and leverage to penetrate the middle, making it challenging for centers.
This could potentially allow the Raiders running backs to bend runs back inside and hit those cutback lanes. But a lot of this will depend on if the tackles can get the defensive ends moving sideways.
Raiders OG vs. Calais Campbell
The Ravens have one of the best inside duos with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. However, the Raiders might catch a break with Wolfe being out. Regardless, they’ll still have to account for and block Campbell. John Simpson gets the start at LG with Incognito ruled out due to injury.
The Ravens will line up Campbell over Simpson and the Raiders will need to figure out a way to slow Campbell down. Last year, Campbell had 3 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 17 more pressures. He was a force for the Ravens.
The Raiders could help Simpson out by sliding center James towards Campbell and using a RB to help and chip block on the outside. The Raiders can also run play-action bootlegs to slow down Campbell from getting uphill. If Campbell is lined up over RG Denzelle Good, the Raiders will be okay as Good has proven himself to be able to handle top defensive players.
Alex Leatherwood vs. Ravens 3-4 OLBs
If there is one matchup that will have the most impact on this team, it’ll be the Raiders new RT against the Ravens pass rushers, which will include a mixture of veterans Justin Houston, Tyus Bowser, and Pernell McPhee.
Bowser and McPhee combined for 5 sacks and 23 QB hits in 2020 for the Ravens. Houston also had 10 sacks last year, but for the Colts. Regardless, he is no slouch in pass rush as he’s done it for a long time.
The Raiders will have to figure out how they will help Leatherwood when it comes to true pass sets, whether it’s a two-minute drill or a third and long. Leatherwood will need help, which means Kolton Miller will have to be able to handle his own against the pass rushers on the opposite side.
If you look back at some other times the Raiders handled top pass rushers, including Khalil Mack two years ago, Gruden sent a double team his way on every play, whether it was two offensive linemen or two TEs. If the Ravens’ DL gets it going, especially off the edge, it could be a tough day for the Silver and Black.
Regardless of how the Raiders do it, they will have to make sure Derek Carr is protected, and Leatherwood can anchor down that right side of the offensive line for the Raiders in Week 1.
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