Key Matchups To Watch: Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Ravens

After opening the season with three of their first four games on the road, the Oakland Raiders return home this weekend for the start of three-consecutive games at home in front of Raider Nation.

First up is a Week 5 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, and after losing back-to-back games, Head Coach Jack Del Rio's group will assuredly be looking to right the ship in front of the home crowd.

That will be no easy task going up against a well-coached, tough, Ravens team, so here are three matchups to keep an eye on as the Silver and Black attempt to climb back over the .500 mark.

Defensive Tackles Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes vs. Running Back Alex Collins

While the Ravens might be averaging just 269.8 yards per game on the offensive side of the football – good for 30th in the NFL – they have done a pretty solid job of moving the ball on the ground through the first quarter of the season.

Headed into Sunday's game, John Harbaugh's group ranks ninth in the NFL, running for 127.3 yards per game on the ground, nearly as many as the 142.5 yards per game they average through the air. That rushing attack is led by second-year running back Alex Collins, who currently leads the team with 206 rushing yards, although he has yet to find the end zone.

The Raiders defense as a whole has been a pleasant surprise through the first quarter of the season, and the interior of the team's defensive line in particular has really come on strong in the early stages of 2017.

After giving up just north of 140 yards on the ground last week against the Broncos, Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group would be well served to return to their typically stout ways, and while stopping the run is a team effort, a lot of that starts up front with Ellis and Vanderdoes.

Safety Karl Joseph vs. Tight End Benjamin Watson

As we mentioned above, the Ravens haven't found a ton of statistical success tossing the pigskin in the early stages of 2017, but they do have one of the more dynamic tight ends in the league on their roster in Benjamin Watson.

Now in his 13th season, there likely isn't a defensive scheme that Watson hasn't seen since entering the NFL, and even though he's about to turn 37, the veteran tight end hasn't appeared to slow down, as he leads the Ravens in receiving yards (146) and is tied for the team lead in receptions (16) as well.

The Silver and Black have had their fair share of issues in the past shutting down the opposing tight end, but that issue appeared remedied last weekend in the Mile High City.

A quality tight end can be a quarterback's best friend, so let's see if Joseph and his defensive teammates can keep Watson in check Sunday afternoon.

Quarterback EJ Manuel vs. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees

Quarterback Derek Carr is on the shelf this week recovering from a transverse process fracture sustained in last week's loss to the Denver Broncos, which means that veteran signal-caller EJ Manuel will be the man under center Sunday when the Silver and Black take on the Ravens.

Manuel is set to make his first start since the end of 2016, and with 17 starts under his belt throughout his four-year, NFL career, Manuel is more than capable to stand in while Carr recovers.

Ask Manuel though, and his preparation this week will be identical to his preparation since he signed with the Raiders.

"I treat it [game preparation] the same way because like you said, we could be walking out of the tunnel before the game and something could happen to the starter and you have to go play," said Manuel. "You never want to be blindsided. That's the last thing, as a backup, you never want to be blindsided going into a game. My preparation for this game hasn't changed at all. Like I said, I still show up at the same time, still go home at the same time. Crossing all my T's, dotting all my I's like I have since my career started."

All eyes will be on Manuel this Sunday, and I for one, am really excited to see how he responds against the Baltimore defense.

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