The Detroit Lions, proudly flaunting a 5-1 record, gear up for a physical matchup with the 4-2 Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. While both teams boast impressive offensive attacks with quarterbacks Jared Goff and Lamar Jackson under center, a series of subplots and key battles are certain to influence the game.
1. Lions’ OC Ben Johnson vs. Ravens’ DC Mike Macdonald
The tactical showdown between Lions’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and the Ravens’ defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will be its own game within the game.
Johnson, with his varied offensive schemes, has turned the Lions into a consistently potent offense this season. With four consecutive wins by double digits, a feat they haven’t achieved since 1991, the offense is finding multiple ways to put points on the board. Their impressive achievement of at least 350 total net yards in each game this season hasn’t been accomplished by the franchise since 1954.
When asked about Johnson’s offensive approach during a press conference, Macdonald acknowledged its effectiveness, noting that it’s “multiple and balanced.” He further elaborated, “[They’re] able to get to a lot of things easily with their personnel being able to move guys around using all their pieces.”
However, with David Montgomery and Jonah Jackson out, Johnson will need to be innovative. The potentially diverse roles for wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond to keep the Ravens’ defense on its toes may likely be showcased on Sunday.
For Johnson and the Lions…
Facing Mike Macdonald’s defense will be no walk in the park. Under his guidance, the Ravens’ defense has emerged as one of the stingiest units in the NFL. They have limited teams to an impressive 260.8 yards per game, and a mere four yards per play—statistics that underscore the defense’s disciplined approach and ability to clamp down on opposing offenses.
One of Macdonald’s standout traits is his ability to craft versatile game plans, designed to tackle varied offensive threats. His strategies focus not only on traditional defensive schemes but also employ deceptive tactics, ensuring that opponents are constantly guessing. This adaptability can be seen in the Raven’s frequent deployment of disguised coverages, their ability to switch between man and zone defenses seamlessly, and their knack for timely blitzes. Furthermore, Macdonald’s emphasis on using every player’s unique strengths has resulted in a more dynamic and unpredictable Ravens defense. His schemes often spotlight versatile defenders, capitalizing on their ability to play multiple roles – be it in pass rush, coverage, or run defense.
Considering the Lions will be without key players, including David Montgomery and Jonah Jackson, Ben Johnson’s play-calling flexibility will be tested against a Ravens defense that’s known for its adaptability.
2. Detroit’s O-Line vs. Baltimore’s Front Seven
The impending collision between the Lions’ offensive line and the Ravens’ aggressive front seven is a narrative that will shape the flow of this game. The Lions’ O-Line has been a cornerstone of their offensive success. They’re providing a pocket for Goff and enabling a potent running game. The Ravens’ front seven, with its unique blend of speed and strength, presents the Lions with their toughest challenge yet.
Detroit’s offensive line, anchored by Frank Ragnow, has been a beacon of consistency throughout the season. Their synchronous movements have largely shielded Goff, allowing him enough time to disperse the ball all over the field. The Lions rank impressively at fifth in the NFL in sack percentage at 4.6%. The stat is a direct testament to their offensive line’s ability to fend off pass rushers. This metric, well below the league average of 6.8%, speaks to the line’s ability to anticipate threats and respond with agility.
Furthermore, their run-blocking capabilities have played a pivotal role in the team’s ground game, opening lanes for the running backs and setting a tempo on the offensive end. The chemistry between the linemen is apparent. Players like Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell are showcasing their reliability week in and week out. Graham Glasgow has provided veteran versatility off the bench to a unit hampered with injuries. Sewell, in particular, stands out having not allowed a sack in over 525 consecutive pass-blocking snaps (according to PFF).
Not to be underestimated…
While the Lions’ O-Line has been impressive, the Ravens’ front seven is not to be underestimated. The Ravens’ defense is tied for the league lead in sacks, a testament to their relentless pass rush. Their defensive schemes, orchestrated by the aforementioned Mike Macdonald, often emphasize aggressive blitzes and stunts, designed to catch offensive lines off-guard (pun intended). Considering the strength of linebackers Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith, along with key players like Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, and the rapid emergence of talents like Odafe Oweh, the Lions’ O-Line will need to be on high alert throughout the game.
Moreover, the Ravens are not merely about rushing the passer. Their front seven demonstrates a disciplined approach to the run game, often congesting running lanes and forcing running backs to alter their paths. The combination of strength in the interior linemen and the speed of the edge rushers ensures a holistic defensive approach that targets both the running and passing games.
The ability of Detroit’s O-Line to neutralize the threats posed by the Ravens’ front seven and maintain its composure will be crucial in dictating the tempo and success of the Lions’ offensive efforts.
3. Lions’ Wide Receivers vs. Ravens’ Secondary
When discussing the Lions’ air attack, the versatility and depth of their wide receiver group stand out prominently. Detroit boasts a receiver room that not only possesses varied skill sets but also the ability to adapt to different game situations, making them a multifaceted threat.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, the Lions’ leading receiver, exemplifies this versatility. His proficiency isn’t limited to conventional routes; St. Brown can operate both inside and outside and has shown the capacity to function effectively from the backfield. This positional fluidity makes him a matchup nightmare for defenses. His ability to exploit spaces in the middle of the field ensures that the opposition always has to account for him.
In addition to St. Brown, the Lions have weaponized other receiving threats such as Jameson Williams, Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond. Williams’ game-breaking speed ensures that defenses cannot overly focus on the short and intermediate areas, lest they be burned with a long play. Moreover, the likes of Josh Reynolds add another layer of complexity to the Lions’ aerial arsenal. His clutch playmaking and reliable hands, especially in contested situations, offer Goff a dependable target when the Lions need to move the chains.
A potentially stifling secondary…
Challenging this versatile Lions’ receiving unit is a Baltimore secondary that has built a reputation for stifling high-flying offenses. To effectively counter the diverse threats posed by Detroit, the Ravens’ defensive backs will need a multi-pronged approach.
Firstly, they will have to maintain tight coverage, ensuring that Goff doesn’t have easy throwing lanes. This requires communication amongst the secondary members, limiting coverage breakdowns.
Considering St. Brown’s adaptability, the Ravens may employ their elite cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, to shadow him. This may mean moving Humphrey into the slot, a role he’s had some experience with. Such a matchup could limit St. Brown’s impact and force Goff to look elsewhere.
Furthermore, safety help from Kyle Hamilton or Geno Stone over the top will be crucial to contain the likes of Williams. By providing deep coverage support, the Ravens can mitigate the risk of big plays down the field. This will ensure that Williams is constantly bracketed and reducing the potential for explosive gains.
Lastly, the Ravens’ secondary will need to be prepared for a range of route combinations, understanding that the Lions’ receivers excel at creating space using diverse route trees and leveraging their versatility. The secondary must maintain discipline, especially when Goff uses play-action or when receivers attempt to create yards after the catch. Tackling proficiency will be paramount.
4. Hutchinson, McNeill, and Lions’ D-Line vs. Ravens’ O-Line
The Lions’ defensive line, highlighted by Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill, has established itself near the top of the NFL. Their ability to disrupt offensive plans and apply pressure on the quarterback consistently has been evident early.
Aidan Hutchinson stands out, having recorded 4.5 sacks thus far. His speed, technique, and seemingly unwavering motor make him a challenge for offensive tackles. Additionally, his flexibility in positioning adds to the complexity for offensive lines preparing for him.
In the middle, DT Alim McNeill has been effective in stopping the run and creating interior pressure. His strength and size often demand double teams, which can free up other defenders to make plays.
The task for Baltimore’s offensive line is clear…
Efficient pass protection is paramount. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses need to identify and counter the Lions’ varied pressure schemes. This includes accurately reading where threats like Hutchinson, Charles Harris, and blitzing linebackers are positioned and making swift blocking adjustments. Clear communication is essential, especially to counter the stunts and twists that Detroit is adept at executing.
In the run game, center Tyler Linderbaum and the guards to his left and right will be crucial. Their ability to create and maintain running lanes can help establish balance, easing some pressure off the passing game.
The Final Whistle
The duel between the Lions’ OC, Ben Johnson, and the Ravens’ DC, Mike Macdonald, promises to be a chess match. The clash in the trenches will determine the pace of the game. Detroit’s wide receivers face the challenging task of navigating the Ravens’ experienced secondary. Furthermore, the Lions’ defensive front stands ready to challenge the Ravens’ finely-tuned offensive line.
As Goff and Jackson prepare to lead their respective teams, it’s these intricate battles that will steer the game’s narrative.
Prediction: Detroit Lions 28; Baltimore Ravens 24.
How to watch: Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens
- Date: Sunday, October 22nd, 2023
- Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
- Location: M&T Bank Stadium
- TV: Fox
- TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen, Erin Andrews, Tom Rinaldi
- Radio: 97.1 The Ticket
- Radio announcers: Dan Miller, Lomas Brown, T.J. Lang
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Nathan Ray Seebeck – USA TODAY Sports