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Key Matchups: Darren Waller's season begins with a marquee matchup against his former team


The Las Vegas Raiders are hosting the Baltimore Ravens in their first regular season game not only of this season, but with fans in Allegiant Stadium.

Raider Nation will definitely be rowdy to see stars like 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson and Darren Waller do their thing. This game will be a fun one to watch as the Raiders high-octane offense will have to battle a stingy Ravens defense that had an 11-5 record last season. Gus Bradley and the new-look Raiders defense will also have a lot to prove, attempting to stop the Ravens' top playmakers in Jackson and running back Gus Edwards.

Keep your eye out for these key matchups going into Week 1. They very well could make or break the game this Monday.

Darren Waller vs. Marlon Humphrey

If you don't think Humphrey is going to move inside to cover Darren Waller most of the game, then guess again.

Waller is the Raiders' top receiving priority and while the Ravens have a plethora of talented cornerbacks and linebackers who do well in coverage, Humphrey stands out among the rest -- and he's honestly the best chance the Ravens have at trying to slow down Waller. Humphrey is a First-Team All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowl selection and was ranked at 38 on the NFL's 2021 Top 100 players list – three spots behind Waller. What makes Humphrey dangerous is his ability to play multiple spots on the field as an outside, nickel and dime corner. He's just too useful not to put against the tight end.

Granted how talented Humphrey is, Waller will be a handful for him. Waller will probably be a handful for any player the Ravens put against him. The tight end is coming off the greatest season of his career with his first Pro Bowl selection and nearly 1,200 receiving yards. Last season, he had five games where he went for at least 100 receiving yards. Waller will also have all the motivation needed to excel for the season opener as he'll be playing against the team that drafted him in 2015. To up the ante even more, the game will be on his 29th birthday.

On Sept. 13, the Ravens will be all over the place also trying to handle the likes of Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow. But Humphrey's matchup with the Waller is probably the one to keep an eye on.

Cousinly Love in Allegiant Stadium

The matchup between Trayvon Mullen Jr. and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will be great for several reasons.

For starters, Jackson will be taking his chances against Mullen most of the night. The former Clemson Tiger is in line to be the starting outside cornerback with Casey Hayward Jr. and could be covering one of Jackson's favorite targets in Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. Brown lead the Ravens in receiving yards, receptions targets and touchdowns last season. If Mullen can properly cover Brown, it will force Jackson to have to get his other receivers involved with the pocket collapsing against him.

Additionally, Mullen and Jackson know each other pretty well since they're related to each other. The two South Florida natives are cousins and grew up competing with and against each other their whole lives. The last time the two faced off against each other was in college when Mullen's defending champion Clemson Tigers defeated the Heisman winner's Louisville Cardinals, 47-21, in 2017.

"We've played against each other since we were five years old," Mullen said about his cousin in 2019. "Youth football, middle school and we continued to play against each other in high school.

"He was always a freakish athlete, always made a lot of big plays. Everything he's doing now he's done all of his life."

The Battle of the Edwards

Am I making this a key matchup because Bryan Edwards, Gus Edwards and I all share the last name? Absolutely.

Will these two players have to step up and play exceptionally well if they want their team to be victorious? Once again, absolutely.

Both of these players have been asked to do a lot from their retrospective teams going into this season. Gus Edwards became the Ravens' top running back after J.K. Dobbins suffered a torn ACL in the preseason that effectively ended his season. Therefore, Gus Edwards will be seeing a lot of carries against a Raiders' run defense that struggled last season. Last season, the Ravens back was top three on his team in rushing yards (723), carries (144) and rushing touchdowns (6). The last time the Ravens played the Raiders in 2018, Edwards rushed for 118 yards on 23 carries.

As for the Edwards in the Raiders offense, he's poised to have a breakout sophomore season. Many believe that he will take the leap alongside Ruggs, and he's given them reason to believe that with his performance throughout Training Camp. The receiver has appeared healthier and more aggressive on the field, and could cause problems for Ravens Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and safeties DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark.

"(Bryan) Edwards has great ability," Head Coach Jon Gruden said on NFL Network in July. "He's got great ability. I'm excited about him. You see he looks like T.O. [Terrell Owens], he looks like one of the number one wideouts in the league."

While these two Edwards aren't going up each other directly, whichever one has the better performance for their offense will likely play a huge role in who takes the Monday Night Football victory.

Beginning on September 13, 2021, all Raiders home game attendees ages 12 and over must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter. The Raiders and Allegiant Stadium have partnered with CLEAR Health Pass to provide easy proof of vaccination. Complete your Health Pass ahead of the game for faster entry. Click here for more information.

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