The Los Angeles Rams will march into Baltimore on Sunday for a pivotal matchup with the Ravens. A win will greatly improve their playoff chances, while a loss will make it even more difficult for Los Angeles to get into the postseason.
The Ravens are as good as any team in the league and they’re coming off a bye, which will have them feeling fresh and healthy against the Rams. There are a handful of matchups that lean the Ravens’ way, but also some that favor the Rams.
Here are five of the biggest individual battles to watch on Sunday.
RT Rob Havenstein vs. OLB Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney leads the Ravens’ dominant pass rush with a team-high 55 pressures. He’s playing some of his best football right now despite being 30 years old, still showing that same burst and explosiveness off the line as an edge rusher.
Havenstein is one of the top right tackles in the league when healthy and he’s having yet another strong season for the Rams, so Los Angeles has the perfect guy to slow down Clowney on the right side of the line. It’ll help the Rams offense significantly if they can neutralize Clowney the way they did Myles Garrett last week.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon vs. WR Odell Beckham Jr.
This is a tough matchup for Witherspoon because of how quick Beckham is and the speed he’s always possessed. Witherspoon isn’t the fastest corner so Beckham has an edge there, but Witherspoon is great at the catch point and is physical at the line of scrimmage if the Rams want to press.
The Ravens’ receiving corps is talented, from Beckham to Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman, but Los Angeles can’t let Beckham get loose on crossers and slants.
DT Aaron Donald vs. LG Ben Cleveland
Cleveland has an 81.1 pass-blocking grade his season, which is second-best on the team. He’s having a solid season at left guard, though he’s had some struggles in run blocking, where he grades out at 44.8.
Donald is a matchup nightmare for any offensive lineman he faces, and as well as Cleveland is playing, he could struggle to keep Donald out of the backfield when the Ravens run the ball. Expect to see Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum helping out with Donald on the interior.
OLB Byron Young vs. LT Ronnie Stanley
Young has been relatively quiet in recent weeks, failing to record more than two pressures in a game since Week 7. He can still be an impactful pass rusher for the Rams thanks to his speed and athleticism, but this week will be a challenge for him.
Not only is he facing Stanley at left tackle, but he needs to be disciplined in his rushes and not get too far upfield with Lamar Jackson’s ability to scramble and escape the pocket. He and the Rams’ other pass rushers must maintain their rush lanes and not give Jackson opportunities to create big plays with his legs.
Sometimes, containing him in the pocket and setting the edge can be better than rushing upfield and trying to generate pressure.
RB Kyren Williams vs. LB Roquan Smith
Williams has become a highly valuable offensive player this season, putting up over 200 yards from scrimmage in Week 12 and more than 100 in Week 13. The Ravens have Smith patrolling the middle of the field for them and he's someone Williams will need to make miss more than once if he's going to have success on the ground.
The Rams' offensive line and wide receivers do a great job of getting to the second level to clear running lanes by erasing linebackers, and that'll have to happen again on Sunday afternoon. With the weather conditions looking bleak, too, the running game could be even more important.