Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens: Dave Birkett’s scouting report, prediction

Detroit Free Press

Baltimore Ravens (1-1) vs. Detroit Lions (0-2)

When: 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS).

Where: Ford Field in Detroit.

The coaches: Lions’ Dan Campbell (5-9 overall, 0-2 with Lions); Ravens’ John Harbaugh (130-80 overall, 130-80 with Ravens).

Last game: Lions lost to Green Bay Packers, 35-17. Ravens beat Kansas City Chiefs, 36-35.

Last meeting: Dec. 3, 2017; Ravens won, 44-20.

Key matchups

Lions C Frank Ragnow vs. Ravens NT Justin Ellis: The Lions want to run the ball, like always, to help their overmatched defense and keep Lamar Jackson off the field. They’ve done a fair job of that so far this year, getting good play across the line. Ragnow does not get enough credit as one of the best centers in the NFL, but he is the leader of a rushing attack that should have favorable matchups Sunday.

The Ravens placed top interior defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. If both players are out, Ellis will play a more prominent role on a line that also will be without defensive end Derek Wolfe.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson vs. Lions OLB Romeo Okwara: This could be Jackson against just about anybody on the Lions defense because it will take an entire team effort to stop the most unique quarterback talent in the NFL. Jackson is like water with the ball in his hands, slippery to the touch and completely adaptable to however defenses try to contain him. He runs on designed keepers, impromptu scrambles and deceptive zone-reads, where he plays off the outside contain defender, which frequently could be Okwara on Sunday. With Trey Flowers doubtful because of injuries, the Lions need Okwara at his best to keep Jackson from racking up big yards.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Ravens run defense

The Lions have run the ball well through two games — they rank fourth in the league at 5.2 yards per carry — but big deficits have limited their overall rushing production. Look for offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to feature the ground game early Sunday as a way to manage the clock and shorten the game.

D’Andre Swift (19 carries, 76 yards) and Jamaal Williams (16 carries, 79 yards) have split work in the backfield so far. Swift has more big-play ability, but Williams’ prowess as a blocker will allow him plenty of snaps this week against the blitz-happy Ravens.

Baltimore ranks sixth in the NFL against the run at 72 yards per game allowed, though the Ravens have given up three rushing touchdowns this year. Losing Brandon Williams and Madubuike would be a big blow on defense, but Patrick Queen is a difference maker at middle linebacker. Edge: Lions

Lions pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense

Jared Goff has been very much a mixed bag in his two starts as a Lion. Statistically, he is putting up some of the best numbers of his career with 584 yards passing and five touchdowns. But he also has turned the ball over three times and remains too infatuated with the check down.

The Lions are light on weapons in the passing game beyond Swift, Williams and tight end T.J. Hockenson, though Quintez Cephus has shown flashes of playmaking ability on the outside. Injuries have ravaged the Ravens’ secondary, so the potential for big plays is there if the Lions can activate their play-action passing game and keep Goff protected.

The Ravens are one of the most aggressive blitzing teams in the NFL, and likely will come after Goff on Sunday. They also have allowed the most passing yards in the NFL the first two weeks (752). Cornerback Marcus Peters is out for the season with a torn ACL and safety DeShon Elliott is questionable with the brain injury, but Marlon Humphrey is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Edge: Ravens

Ravens run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Ravens have the best, most dynamic rushing attack in the NFL, topping 100 yards on the ground in 41 straight games (two shy of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ long-standing NFL record). Jackson is capable of a big run anytime he takes a snap, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman has tailored his power rushing scheme perfectly to his quarterback’s electric talents.

The Ravens run frequently out of the pistol formation and have read options built into seemingly every play. That paralyzes defenses and is a big reason why Baltimore has survived the loss of top backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Fill-in Ty’Son Williams is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, while veteran Latavius Murray is the change-of-pace option.

The Lions stressed gap responsibility and gang tackling in practice this week, but both are easier said than done. Safeties Tracy Walker and Will Harris will play key roles in run support, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin and rookie Derrick Barnes are expected to split time at the second inside linebacker position, where they will be in Jackson’s crosshairs. Edge: Ravens

Ravens pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Jackson can be erratic as a passer, but he made some mechanical adjustments this offseason that appear to be paying dividends. He is averaging a career-best 8.5 yards per attempt and has seen his completion percentage tick up while operating behind a makeshift offensive line.

Why Ravens QB Lamar Jackson’s missed practice (illness) isn’t good news for Lions ]

All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, and rookie Ben Cleveland will start at left guard in place of the injured Tyre Phillips. The Ravens have two deep-threat receivers in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Sammy Watkins, and tight end Mark Andrews is a reliable safety valve in the short and intermediate passing game.

The Lions are giving up 10.2 yards per pass play, worst in the NFL, and they are on their third-string left cornerback after losing Jeff Okudah and Ifeatu Melifonwu to injuries. Bobby Price, a converted safety, and practice squad promotion Daryl Worley will man that position Sunday. The Lions need more out of their pass rush, though Jackson has the goods to make undisciplined rushers pay. Edge: Ravens

Special teams

The Lions have been dealing with kicking issues since training camp and they had a new one pop up this week when Austin Seibert landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Ryan Santoso, who already is on his fourth team this season, is in line to handle kicking duties Sunday.

Godwin Igwebuike muffed another kick return against the Packers, which could prompt the Lions to use Corey Ballentine as their primary return man. And top special teams players Reeves-Maybin and Barnes could have reduced roles in the kicking game this week with more on their plate defensively. On the bright side, Jack Fox is off to another fine start and is one of the best punters in the NFL.

The Ravens have a much more stable kicking game, with the clutch Justin Tucker handling field goals and extra points and veteran Sam Koch as punter. They lead the league in punt return average, thanks to speedy second-year receiver Devin Duvernay (16.6 ypr) and force opponents to be ready for the sleight of hand. Koch is 7-for-7 passing in his career and the Ravens have attempted at least one fake punt every season since 2017. In short, Baltimore has one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Edge: Ravens

Prediction

The Lions don’t have quite as daunting a task Sunday as they did last week, when they faced an angry Packers team on Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field, but they still will need a near-perfect game to win. The Ravens stress a defense like few other teams in the NFL. They are relentless running the football, have speed at receiver that must be accounted for, and Jackson is a magician with the ball in his hands.

Offensively, the Lions have the line to keep Baltimore’s blitz-happy defense at bay, and limit Jackson’s time on the field. But I’ve seen Goff hit the panic button one too many times to expect things to go smoothly. And in a game like this, one mistake is too many for the overmatched Lions to overcome. Pick: Ravens 34, Lions 24

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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