Overview: Let us start by saying this is an extremely tough matchup for the Rams, who are in virtual "must-win" mode at this point. The Baltimore Ravens are riding a six-game winning streak, including a recent thumping of the New England Patriots. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is probably the front runner for MVP right now (although you could argue for Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson), and the defense has gelled since the acquisition of former Rams corner Marcus Peters. The Ravens are 3.5 point favorites, and many think that margin is not enough.
NFL Network commentator Brian Billick on Friday predicted the Rams would "get their butts handed to them" by the Ravens. OK, he is a former Ravens coach, so he might not be the most unbiased observer. However, he is not alone in that opinion.
It is appropriate that a team named for a poem by Edgar Allen Poe presents a nightmare matchup right now.
Nevertheless, for Ram fans, all is not lost. The Rams are at home and are two plays away from being 8-2, one of which was an apparent blown call against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rams offensive line last week against the Chicago Bears turned in probably their best performance of the season, with rookie tackle Bobby Evans more than holding his own against Khalil Mack.
Furthermore, as good as Lamar Jackson is, the Rams defense has been good against the run and especially good against running quarterbacks this season. The Ravens probably have not seen a defensive front like this all season, and the addition of Jalen Ramsey may have been the final piece in what can be an outstanding defense.
Rams Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don ''Wink" Martindale loves to dial up blitzes and the Baltimore Ravens blitz on almost half of their snaps on defense. That is going to present a challenge for a Rams offensive line that has had issues all season and features two rookies on the right side in guard David Edwards and tackle Bobby Evans. Evans will see a lot of Ravens edge rusher Matt Judon in what could be one of the key matchups of the night.
Last week against the Bears, the Rams went to a lot of two-tight-end sets and a run-heavy offense to counter an active Bears defensive front. We even saw tight end Johnny Mundt deployed as a fullback on some plays. Do not be shocked if the Rams go "smashmouth" again on Monday, both to protect Jared Goff from an aggressive Baltimore pass rush and to keep the ball out of Jackson's hands-on offense.
The Ravens secondary has only allowed a 79.5 passer rating to oppose quarterbacks this season. On the other hand, the Rams will have receiver Brandin Cooks back, and Robert Woods may (or may not) also return to action. Cooks will probably see quite a bit of former Rams corner Marcus Peters. Peters is a high risk, high reward player who gambles in coverage, going for the pick but also getting burned while doing so. He was vulnerable to the double move during his time in L.A., and it would not a huge shock to see Cooks and the Rams try to test that vulnerability on Monday night.
The Rams also face a not-so-friendly reunion with an old foe, safety Earl Thomas. That is not a good thing as a Rams fan.
The x-factor in this game could be Todd Gurley. The Rams running back looked like his old self last week against the Bears. Other than a fumble on the Ram's first possession, he was stellar. If he can keep it going on Monday night, the Rams have a chance to pull the upset. If not, this could get ugly.
Rams Defense vs. Ravens Offense: Lamar Jackson has been playing out of his mind in recent weeks. He may be the best running quarterback since Micheal Vick in his prime, but where he has stepped up from last season is in his passing ability. Add it all together, and we have a genuinely explosive dual-threat, and stopping him will be job one for the Rams in this game.
The Ravens have won their last four games by an average of 25 points per game and have scored a total of 157 points over that same time. The Rams defense over that same time has allowed a league-low 44 points. The problem is that three of those games have been against Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph, and Mitch Trubisky, not precisely a "murderer's row" of NFL quarterbacks. While the other was against a magnificent Falcons quarterback in Matt Ryan, Jackson represents a very different type of challenge than Ryan.
However, there is hope IF the Rams can pressure Jackson with only four pass rushers and especially if Aaron Donald can do what he often does, which is living in the other team's backfield. Jackson has done a lot of his damage this season against all-out blitzes. His passer rating against blitzing defenses is 122.1, while against a usual pass rush, it is 91.2. However, the Rams defenders will need to maintain their gap integrity and keep Jackson from bouncing outside for long runs, something he is very capable of doing. It will be interesting to see if Wade Phillips employs a "spy" or a defender who solely assigned to shadowing Jackson and keeping him contained as a runner. If they do, those duties could fall on inside linebacker Corey Littleton, who is once again having an outstanding season. Rookie safety Taylor Rapp could also end up spying on Jackson, depending on how Phillips decides to handle the situation. Neither Rapp nor Littleton has the raw speed to match up with the Ravens quarterback, so they will need anticipation and football ''smarts" to be successful in that role.
The Ravens passing game tends to run through the tight ends more than most NFL offenses. Tight end Mark Andrews leads the team in receptions, yards, and targets. The Rams wish they had starting safety John Johnson on the field to deal with Andrews. However, Marquis Christian has done a stable job of replacing Johnson and will need to step up again on Monday night.
The Rams defense has been outstanding lately. If they can continue that trend on Monday, the Rams can win this game, but it will not be easy.
Special Teams: The Rams special teams have been good this year, but they have not performed up to the high standards of the last couple of years. They need a breakout game on Monday.
Prediction: As a Rams fan, we know that it is do-or-die time. A loss in this game would mean Los Angeles probably has to win out to make the playoffs, and that still might not be enough. Our head says the Ravens will probably win this game, and if we were betting in Las Vegas, we would have to go with Baltimore. They may be the best team in the NFL right now.
However, my heart is with the Rams. The law of averages says the Ravens cannot keep winning games by 25 points a clip. Nobody is THAT good.
The Rams have their backs to the wall. Even though my head says the Ravens will win this game, I just cannot bring myself to give up on the 2019 Rams just yet.
Rams 20 Ravens 17