Baltimore Ravens v Las Vegas Raiders (4, 50)
This game is a mismatch.
The Raiders defense rated 12% below the median in defensive efficiency last season. That dubious mark was good for 29th in the league. The Ravens offense ranked 16% above the median in offensive efficiency – the second-best performing unit in the league last season. That signifies a difficult night for the Raiders, but it gets worse.
While the Raiders’ offense is better than its perception, the Baltimore defense is elite. The Raiders finished 5% above the league median last season in offensive efficiency. They finished the season as the 12th rated offense. Baltimore’s defense finished a whopping 18.5% above the median in defensive efficiency last season. It was the single most efficient defensive unit in the NFL.
The Baltimore offense was the best rushing team in the league last season. Conversely, the model ranked the Raiders run defense in the bottom third of the league last season compounding the problem. Sometimes the math and the eye test line up perfectly. The Raiders are a slightly below-average team. The Ravens are an elite team on both sides of the ball. Their defense brings down the Raiders, and the Ravens run the single most difficult offense to prepare from a scheme perspective.
The problem is not just how to defend the Ravens’ planned run game. It is how to defend Jackson in the pocket where he is an ever-present threat to run.
Lamar Jackson is impossible to defend. On the play below, the Ravens face a third down and ten from the Packers 18 – an apparent passing down. The Ravens send five players in pass routes. The Packers rush only four. The Packers need to cover the five Ravens receivers and spy on Lamar. Watch the second level of the defense get caught in no-mans-land as the play unfolds.
This is not a designed run play, but this is the pressure Jackson puts on opposing defenses constantly.
In this next play, the Bengals attempt the same defensive look as the Packers tried in the previous play. The Bengals maintain their spacing much better than the Packers did and keep Lamar in the pocket. They still cannot win.
Jackson creates time in the pocket. With no avenue forward, he escapes the pocket to the right sideline. This draws the second-level defending linebacker in and toward the sideline, which leaves Jackson’s receiver wide open. Jackson puts pressure on all eleven defensive players at the same time. Even though the Ravens offense was successful in the play against the Bengals, the Raiders are going to have to keep the same defensive lane integrity that the Bengals did on that play to have a chance. The interior defensive linemen need to kee position in front of Rodgers and slide with him.
The Raiders will have to play near-flawless football. On offense, the Raiders will want to be deliberate to maintain rhythm but methodical. Las Vegas will need to slow their pace of play down to around 30 seconds. This is far slower than they are accustomed to, but they need to shorten the game and allow for the most variance in the outcome. They need to pass early in the downs to set up third and shorts. And they need to score touchdowns, not field goals.
On defense, it is a nearly impossible task. Several cliches apply because schematically, there is simply not much the Raiders can do. The defensive line will need to stay in its lanes when rushing Jackson. If the ends get too far upfield, Jackson will burn them with his legs. It is challenging for defensive linemen to stay that disciplined when they know sacks equal contracts. Watch a defensive player on a screenplay. The great ones read it. They sense that they are getting into the backfield a little too easy, and they disengage and drop. Others see nothing but a sack, come hard on, and leave the defense exposed. That is what it is like with Jackson on every play. Only he will run by you. The linebackers are going to have to play with depth and be highly disciplined.
If the Raiders can accomplish all of that, win the turnover differential by two-plus, and have field goal luck, this might be in the range of the spread.
Regardless, look for Waller to have a superb game.
This game is a mismatch.
The model finds value in the Ravens -4