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Talkin’ Trenches: Week 16 Preview at Baltimore

If I had to guess, there will be many rushing attempts Saturday.

Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom smiles and acknowledges fans after a game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Of course I had to show some love to the best guard in football! Congrats to Chris Lindstrom on making the Pro Bowl!
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the second edition of Talkin’ Trenches! As much as we all love division rival matchups, this game between the Falcons and the Ravens brings a lot of excitement, especially when you look at the play styles of both teams.

If you’re a fan of physical, smashmouth offensive football, this might be the game for you. If you also waited for the last minute and need all of the time possible to run to the store for those Christmas gifts, this might also be the game for you, as well.

Two teams who pride themselves on their rushing attack will square off on what should be a freezing cold day in Baltimore Saturday. While there shouldn’t be any precipitation coming down with the frigid temperatures, wind gusts could also make things more interesting in the passing game. Let’s take a look at some keys for both sides of the line for the Falcons, including some injury situations to take pay attention to.

Offensive line

Raven Calais Campbell has been ruled out of Saturday’s game after suffering a knee injury against the Cleveland Browns in the 4th quarter last week. The presence, or lack thereof, of Campbell affects this game in multiple ways. The 2010s All-Decade Team member has been playing at a high level, especially against the run, at age 36.

Standing around 6’8” with long arms, Campbell’s presence at the line can greatly limit throwing windows for quarterbacks, even if he isn’t getting to them in the pocket. Even at that height, Campbell has always been good at creating leverage with his arms and hands to disrupt run blocks. Lastly, I can’t go without mentioning that Campbell has four more blocked field goals (9) than anyone else the past 15 years. Without his presence on the field goal block team, things could be much easier for Younghoe Koo and that unit as well. Having him out of the game could be a boost for the Falcons on many fronts.

I bet you didn’t expect to see some special teams in here as well, did you?

Outside of Campbell, this is a fun defense to watch. You can find playmakers on any level. Their linebackers are fast and physical. The interior of the offensive line will once again have to perform at a high level reaching those linebackers to make work easier for the running backs.

On the ground, the Ravens have been giving up 3.8 yards per carry, good for third in the league. However, this defense gave up 143 yards on the ground last week to the Browns, including 99 of those to Nick Chubb, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry. It wouldn’t be the first time the Falcons have gone against a stout run defense this season, and they’ve had success against many of them.

Defensive line

The Falcons defense does not have the fun task of trying to contain a Lamar Jackson-led offense this week, as head coach John Harbaugh officially ruled Tyler Huntley the starter on Thursday. Even without Jackson playing, the primary focus remains the same: the Falcons HAVE to stop the run. The Ravens have only rushed for less than 110 yards twice all season, with one of those coming in Week 1 (63 yards at the Jets), and the other a 103-yard performance in Week 13 vs Denver.

The biggest key here will be getting the Ravens behind schedule on first down. It’s a tough task to ask even if Jackson doesn’t play because of their running back duo of JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The last two weeks, Dobbins has gone over 120 yards in both games, and Edwards has been averaging over 5 yards per carry.

The most important reason for the Falcons to get the Ravens behind schedule is fatigue. It’s no surprise that the Falcons don’t have the luxury of depth on the defensive line, especially once Ta’Quon Graham went down for the rest of the season. Last week, the Saints rushing attack wore down the Falcons front. While he had not had many big games on the ground recently, Alvin Kamara continued to improve as the game went on. The runs that would go for one or two yards in the first half started becoming six and seven-yard runs.

While the Falcons aren’t great against the pass, the Ravens only average 180 yards per game through the air, and they really struggled getting things going last week against Cleveland. The Falcons will be much better served putting the Ravens offense in obvious passing situations, something Baltimore will also want to do to them.

Main takeaway

I’ll really focus on time of possession in this game. The Falcons would be better served having long drives behind that run game on offense to ease the game for Desmond Ridder and help keep the defensive line as fresh as possible. While the Ravens defense is really good, nobody wants to keep tackling downhill runners like Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allegier 30+ times a game, especially when it’s as cold as it’ll be Saturday.

If the Falcons can dominate the time of possession (assuming they aren’t doing it only because they’re giving up big plays on defense, of course) and reach that 30+ rush mark, they’ll put themselves in position to be right there at the end of the game. The next step is to finish off one of these close games with a victory.

I wish everyone a happy holiday season, and I hope you get to enjoy some time with family or other loved ones, especially with a lot of football to watch in the upcoming days. Have a good one!