Ravens-Washington: Five predictions for Sunday

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The Ravens and Washington should have a fun NFL rivalry.

The old Colts dominated the head-to-head series 15-5 from 1953-1983, but late Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke’s opposition to the efforts to bring the NFL back to Baltimore in the 1980s and early 1990s infuriated locals who rejected the idea of the team formerly known as the Redskins invading their territory. When the Ravens finally arrived in 1996, thoughts of playing Washington were as exciting as what the eventual rivalry with Pittsburgh would become.

While the Ravens have become one of the league’s model franchises with two Super Bowl titles, six division championships, and 12 playoff appearances in their 24 seasons, Washington has largely become irrelevant with just five playoff berths and two postseason victories since 1996. In other words, the glory days under Joe Gibbs feel like a long, long time ago. Monday’s humbling loss to Kansas City aside, the Ravens remain a strong Super Bowl contender in 2020 while the Washington Football Team is again starting over with new head coach Ron Rivera and a new nickname to be determined.

Other than playing 30 miles apart, there’s just no rivalry between these teams.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens travel to FedEx Field in the regular season for the first time since 2012. The teams are tied 3-3 in the all-time series, but Washington has won each of the last two meetings. Coincidentally, Baltimore lost at Washington in both 2000 and 2012, two seasons that ended with Super Bowl championships for the Ravens.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will rush for a season-high 250 yards. Baltimore averaged 7.5 yards per rushing attempt last Monday — the third-highest single-game mark in team history — despite moving away from the run before the Chiefs even pulled away. A talented Washington front is without second overall pick Chase Young and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, but other capable pass rushers such as Ryan Kerrigan and Montez Sweat remain. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is also dealing with a shoulder injury that could limit his effectiveness, making it elementary for the Ravens offense to get back to its roots against a defense ranking 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game and 18th in run defense efficiency. After eclipsing 250 rushing yards four times last year, Baltimore will use a collaborative effort to hit that mark.

2. Marquise Brown will catch his first touchdown of the season. After much offseason hype over his weight and strength gain and workout videos on social media, the 2019 first-round pick started 2020 with a bang as he caught all five of his targets for 101 yards in the first half of the season-opening blowout win over Cleveland. However, in hist last 2 1/2 games, Brown has registered an ordinary seven receptions for 55 yards and was largely a non-factor in the Kansas City game. The Washington pass defense has fared well overall, but it’s been susceptible to the big play by allowing the seventh-highest deep pass attempt percentage (30.8 percent), according to Pro Football Focus. Brown is due to break out.

3. The Baltimore defense will force three turnovers against second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The Ravens have forced a takeaway in 16 consecutive regular-season games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL and the second longest in team history. Meanwhile, Haskins will be without starting receiver Steven Sims Jr. and may not have top receiver Terry McLaurin, who landed on the injury report with a thigh injury late in the week. The young quarterback has struggled against pressure and in a clean pocket, a really bad combination against a talented defense that will be ticked off after being embarrassed in Week 3. Haskins is a far cry from Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson.

4. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson will find the end zone as a rare bright spot for Washington. If there’s one skill player to watch other than McLaurin, it’s Gibson, who has shown an ability to break tackles and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. However, it’s his receiving ability that should have the Ravens on alert, especially after Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire caught five passes for 70 yards against them. Gibson has caught six passes for only 16 yards as a pro so far, but he was a wide receiver at Memphis who caught 38 passes for 735 yards and eight touchdowns last year. After a poor showing last week, first-round linebacker Patrick Queen must keep a close eye on his fellow rookie.

5. Robert Griffin III will see late snaps against his old team in the Ravens’ 37-10 win. Despite Baltimore’s frustration after falling so flat against the defending Super Bowl champions on Monday Night Football, you couldn’t help but immediately think Washington would feel the Ravens’ wrath after their first regular-season loss since last September. A healthy Young would present a tough challenge for Stanley and right tackle Orlando Brown, but expecting the Washington defense to get enough stops to give Haskins and one of the league’s worst offenses — even with McLaurin — a chance to keep up is just too much to ask. While long-term questions persist about the Ravens’ ability to beat Kansas City and thrive in January, this is the kind of game and opponent that’s given John Harbaugh’s team no problems since the start of last season. We’re more likely to see Griffin playing in mop-up duty than this game being close in the fourth quarter.