It's been an odd week, hasn't it? Chargers fans have run the gamut of emotions during, and since, the comeback win over the Oakland Raiders. Allow me to briefly sum up my feelings on that game. The Raiders looked bruising, Cesaire was greatly missed and the Bolts are 1-0 with a road win against a division opponent. Let's move on.
Can the Chargers escape week 2 still undefeated? The possible, but not as all probable, answers lie after the jump.
The news of the week for me is not about the lack of health on the offensive line, but rather the stunning health on the defensive line. Considering Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire have been missing from this week's practice participation reports, I can only imagine they're ready to go on Sunday. Jamal Williams practiced on Thursday and should also be fine. Those three guys are the best chance the Chargers have of stopped the Ravens running attack.
After the first week, the Ravens rank 2nd in the NFL in total offense, 5th in passing offense and 2nd in rushing offense. Although they are a little banged up on defense, their offense remains quite healthy. Ray Rice, a guy who I think is a future Pro Bowler, had 108 yards on 19 carries against the Chiefs. Although the Ravens have great faith in Joe Flacco to throw the ball, they would prefer to win this game by grinding it out on the ground and winning the time of possession battle.
After their Week 1 battle against the Raiders, the Chargers are 25th in the league in total defense, 16th in passing defense and 25th in rushing defense. Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie should do a decent job against Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, but the key to stopping the Ravens passing offense will be getting pressure on Flacco and finding a way to cover Todd Heap. The Chargers were able to do neither in their Week 1 game, and they stand no chance of winning without doing it in this one. I think the Bolts need at least one interception that is turned into points to win this game.
Advantage: Ravens. The Ravens will test the Chargers defensive line with their power running game. Joe Flacco is not JaMarcus Russell and he will make the Bolts pay if they cannot get pressure on him.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
In a scene reminiscent of 2008, the Chargers offense was fairly ineffective in Oakland until the fourth quarter. Although the team can occasionally put 2-3 good plays together in the first half, they very rarely have long, successful drives and are left punting it more than they should. Mike Scifres is currently tied for the 4th most punts (5) this season after Week 1. Sam Koch, the punter for the Ravens, is tied for the 2nd least (2).
After Week 1, the Chargers rank 14th in total offense, 13th in passing offense and 20th in rushing offense. With Nick Hardwick and LaDainian Tomlinson possibly missing Sunday's game, the prospect of a balanced offense becomes even more difficult. The Ravens currently rank 3rd in total defense, 2nd in rushing defense and 7th in passing defense. So they're not going to make anything easy for Philip Rivers and Co.
If the Chargers are going to have success against the Ravens, they're going to have to find the mismatches. Their offensive line against possibly the biggest and strongest defensive line in the NFL is not a mismatch they'd want to go after. However, with a trio of 6'5" receivers they may want to attack Baltimore's short secondary (no CBs over 5'11"). These guys don't blow you away with talent either. The reason their CBs come off looking good is because the defense blitzes so much. If Rivers can get the ball in the air to Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson the Chargers should be able to move the chains consistently.
Advantage: Tie. The Chargers have to make a point to abandon the running game early if it's not working. Falling behind against a team that's this good and this aggressive is just asking for a Philip Rivers injury, and nobody wants to see that. Start hot, take what the defense gives you and don't get stubborn because they have the best run-stopping Nose Tackle in the league.
Don't forget to send in your Mailbag Questions to (maybe) be answered on Saturday. Your questions do not necessarily have to be related to the Chargers.