I began last week’s Oakland Raiders preview by noting the close parallels between them and their opponent, the Denver Broncos in terms of how their season had gone thus far. Well, the similarities between the Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens are downright eerie.
Both won their first two games handily, got shockingly blown out in week 3 and lost to division rivals last Sunday. They are also dealing with injury problems, though the extent is the difference there. The Raiders will be without their team leader this week, while the Ravens have caught the injury bug big time.
It’s pretty bad. Just look at their injured reserve list. 16 players out for the season through just four weeks of football. Eight of those guys are starters/major contributors (Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon, Crockett Gillmore, Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, Brent Urban, Albert McClellan and Tavon Young). It’s no surprise that they’re struggling all of a sudden.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have to face the prospect of Derek Carr missing significant time after he suffered a back injury against the Broncos. He’ll definitely be out on Sunday and could be out longer, though he did manage to make it onto the practice field this week in a limited capacity.
Winning with a backup quarterback is never easy. EJ Manuel didn’t play terribly when he came in for Carr last week, but now he faces the prospect of full-time action against a dangerous Ravens defense. Head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Todd Downing will be instrumental this week with their gameplan.
Thankfully for Manuel, Michael Crabtree is on track to return after missing the Broncos game with a chest injury. He and Amari Cooper have their work cut out for them trying to beat a talented Ravens secondary, led by the safety duo of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. Cooper needs to correct his league-leading drop problem as well. Manuel needs all the weapons he can muster if he wants to be effective versus Baltimore.
The Raiders rushing attack was pathetic in both of their losses. Marshawn Lynch looks slow and lifeless after starting the season solidly. The Ravens are 25th in run defense thus far, so Lynch and his cohorts have to capitalize, though right guard Gabe Jackson might be out with an injury.
Still, the Ravens losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers show that they are human. The potential absences of elite run stuffer Brandon Williams and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith don’t help things either. There’s potential for the Raiders to strike while the opportunity is available.
Amazingly, the Raiders defense has recovered somewhat to passable status after looking shaky in the first two games. Khalil Mack is playing out of his mind, and other players have stepped their games up, most notably Karl Joseph, Cory James and T.J. Carrie. They could very well shutter a weak Ravens offense that has only scored 14 points in the last two weeks.
Part of that is due to Yanda’s absence. He’s arguably one of the best guards in the NFL, and his replacements (practice squad promotee Matt Skura and former Raider Tony Bergstrom) are a huge drop in quality. As a result, the running game has flatlined. However, if the Ravens use Javorius Allen like the Washington Redskins utilized Chris Thompson in their win over the Raiders, they could get some nice results.
Joe Flacco is off right now, no doubt in part due to the struggles of those around him. However, he hasn’t stepped his game up in response either. The patented strategy of using tight ends against the Raiders is in jeopardy as well; both Ben Watson and Maxx Williams could be out with injuries. Jeremy Maclin could be leaned on heavily if David Amerson and Gareon Conley aren’t able to suit up.
A 2-3 start to the season wouldn’t be ideal for either team as of now, especially since they could be in the mix for playoff spots later this season. With all the injuries and offensive struggles, however, this game could end up being a defensive slugfest. We’ll see what goes down in Oakland on Sunday.