If there were any concerns about the Ravens being too high after the emotional win over Kansas City, a reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic brought them crashing back to reality on Friday.
With defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike and outside linebackers Justin Houston and Jaylon Ferguson being placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list and defensive end Derek Wolfe out for a third straight game, the Baltimore defense will be shorthanded against a Detroit Lions team trying to avoid an 0-3 start under new head coach Dan Campbell. John Harbaugh’s team showed its impeccable resolve in taking down the Chiefs, but you can only lose so many players before it takes a toll in an league with such a small margin for error.
We also saw how the late-week losses of running back Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters shook Baltimore ahead of the season-opening loss at Las Vegas, meaning nothing should be taken for granted against the Lions.
It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2017 and the sixth time in the regular season with Baltimore owning a 4-1 advantage. The Lions haven’t won in this series since a 35-17 final at Ford Field in 2005, an embarrassing performance in which the Ravens committed 21 penalties.
Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:
1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 100 yards in back-to-back games for the second time in his NFL career. Ten notable contributors on injured reserve and four more on the COVID-19 list? No problem when you have Jackson, who enters Sunday fourth in the NFL in rushing. The Lions defense is a respectable 13th at just 3.8 yards per carry allowed, but the current health picture for its linebackers is unsettling, especially against a Greg Roman ground game. Even if Detroit manages to keep the Ravens in check between the tackles with its unique five-man front, Jackson will get loose to eclipse the century rushing mark for a second straight game, something he hasn’t done since October 2019.
2. Odafe Oweh will record 1 1/2 sacks to pick up the pass rush. Coming off a game in which Wink Martindale barely blitzed Patrick Mahomes and now missing multiple defensive linemen and edge players, the defensive front is quite a mystery against a Lions offense quietly averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The Ravens will be more aggressive blitzing Lions quarterback Jared Goff and will lean heavily on Oweh, who played 38 of 51 defensive snaps last week and is playing like an elite run defender on the edge. His matchup with Lions rookie left tackle Penei Sewell becomes even more interesting with Houston now unavailable, but we’ll see Oweh rise to the occasion like he did in Week 2.
3. Detroit tight end T.J. Hockenson will catch a touchdown and eclipse 80 receiving yards. The early-season schedule has been brutal in the opposing tight end department with the Ravens facing Darren Waller in Week 1 and Travis Kelce in Week 2. That skewed the unseemly 19 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns allowed to tight ends thus far, but it doesn’t get much easier against Hockenson, who accounts for 22% of targets and 28% of receiving yards in the Lions offense through two weeks. You’d expect the Ravens to repeat the jamming tactics used against Kelce with the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Hockenson, but he remains a matchup problem for both linebackers and safeties.
4. Marlon Humphrey will register his first interception of the season. No one is worried about the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, of course, but it hasn’t been the greatest start to the season for Humphrey, who’s allowed a touchdown in coverage in each of the first two games after surrendering three all last year. That will change this week against a Lions wide receiver group that doesn’t scare anyone. Goff will try to avoid Humphrey in coverage as much as possible, but the blitz will eventually catch up to the Lions quarterback and prompt an ill-advised pass in the direction of Baltimore’s top corner, who will pounce to grab his first pick since Week 1 of last season. Humphrey is overdue.
5. The Ravens will control the tempo for most of the afternoon in a 27-16 win over the Lions. Because of the losses on the defensive line — we know the run defense’s history when Williams is sidelined — and the capable backfield duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, the Lions would love to beat Baltimore at its own game by running the football and controlling the clock to keep the explosive Jackson on the sideline. That’s why the Ravens will lean even harder into what they do best by mixing a three-headed monster of Ty’Son Williams, Latavius Murray, and Devonta Freeman with the elite athleticism and effective play-action passing of the 2019 NFL MVP to take an early lead, shorten the game, and protect a depleted defense. After gaining a major confidence boost and no shortage of style points in taking down the mighty Chiefs last week, Sunday is simply about the Ravens doing what they need to do against a lesser opponent desperate for a win. It doesn’t have to be very pretty and probably won’t be.