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Previewing the Chargers matchup against the Ravens

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Kyle breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of this week's matchup to project a winner.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This is a bigger game than it feels like. Or at least this game isn't being "hyped" despite the importance of this match-up. Both the Chargers and Ravens are fighting for 1st place in their respective divisions while trying to keep pace for those final 2 wildcard spots. In what seems like a very evenly matched game, like most Charger games, expect this one to go down to the final possession. Let's get into some match-ups.

When the Chargers have the ball

This is strength vs. strength. San Diego is coming off an extremely effective performance where the team racked up over 400 yards, at 6.8 yards per play, simply by getting back to their "half court" offense. Getting Ryan Mathews back has been huge for this offense considering they've put themselves in the position to convert on 3rd and short plenty of times. Problem is, they haven't cashed in on those opportunities. The offense has been reticent when it comes to converting on 3rd downs the last 2 games. Not only are they 8-27, but the Chargers are 2-11 when it's 3rd and 5 or less. With nothing but playoff teams remaining, San Diego has to figure this out. There are too many weapons with too good of a quarterback to be converting anything less than 45%. The Ravens boast a top 10 defense, but they also struggle on 3rd downs. They're 21st in the league on opponents' 3rd down conversions.

On the Ground

Up front the Ravens are big and stout. Chris Watt will have his hands full with 340 pound nose tackle Brandon Williams. Williams has arguably been the best interior defensive lineman against the run this year. Not only does he hold his ground but Williams can also finish the play himself. As if he weren't hard enough to move, fellow 340 pound Haloti Ngata will line up all over the line of scrimmage before sliding inside on passing downs. I don't have to tell you how good Ngata is. The Ravens have 2 anchors on the outside in Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw, who can both set the edge and finish plays themselves. The group up front allows both of the Ravens inside linebackers to run free and make plays. Against the run, this is a mismatch for the Chargers up front and not in their favor. They played their best game last week and they're going to have to play better than that in order to consistently run the ball against this group. It's just hard to get yards against these guys 5 yards downfield. Baltimore allows the 2nd fewest yards between 5-10 yards and the 3rd fewest when you get to 10+.

In the Air

Where the Chargers have the advantage is on the perimeter. Lardarius Webb is a very good corner in his own right, but the other 2 corners that the Ravens trot out are Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer. This is where the quick passing game can come in handy. Continue to get the ball to your playmakers and force these young CBs to make a tackle in space. If the Chargers offensive line is facing mismatches up and down the line of scrimmage, the Ravens DBs are in a similar situation. The last couple weeks, even rookie phenom C.J. Mosley has missed tackles in space in the passing game. Now, protecting Rivers long enough to make these plays is a different story.

Baltimore is loaded with pass rushers and they like to bring Mosley and their other inside linebacker, Daryl Smith, up the middle on some crafty blitzes. They've caused confusion for offensive lines in the past couple games that has resulted in rushers running free to the quarterback. 10 sacks and 8 QB hits the last 2 games. That feels like season numbers for the Chargers. D.J. Fluker will go up against the league leader in sacks in Elvis Dumervil. He's a crafty power-rusher. D.J. will need to continue to stay balanced and patient.

The gameplan should mirror last weeks and should feature plenty of screens and quick passes. In the run game, look to run more stretch zone plays. Try to get outside of the tackles and get their big men on the move. The team has to be better in the red zone. 0-3 the last 2 games. It seems as if Reich isn't using the full 10 yards of the end zone when he's calling passing plays.

Goals

  • 45% or better on 3rd down

  • 60% or better TD percentage in the Red Zone

  • 5 or more plays over 15 yards

When the Ravens have the Ball

When I watch Baltimore's offense, I see a very basic approach. Run right. Throw a slant left. Run up the middle. Take a shot deep. Most know how a Gary Kubiak offense is ran if you watched the Texans for the last decade. Zone runs, play-action passes with west coast concepts sprinkled in.

Limiting the big run

Like most in the past, this Kubiak led offense has a very, very good offensive line. Watching this line open up holes in the run game, when compared to the Chargers is night and day. Justin Forsett is 5th in the NFL in rushing but Donald Brown would look like a viable running back behind this bunch. In a lot of the runs I saw, Forsett wasn't challenged until he was 5-6 yards down the field.

One of Donald Butler's biggest issues this year have been overrunning the play or just locating the ball in general early enough to give himself an opportunity to make the play. The Ravens love to run that stretch zone play where they get everyone on the move and Forsett can pick a hole to cutback for a big play. It'll be important for Butler, who is coming from the weak side, to not over-pursue. Kavell Conner will need to continue his aggressive play and Sean Lissemore just needs to continue doing what he does - holding the point of attack up the middle.

The Ravens probably boast the best interior line in football. This will be a tough challenge for the Chargers on plays up the middle. I will say that there were several occasions where the safety was in position to make the tackle 1-on-1 and they just didn't make the play. I don't think that'll be a problem for Eric Weddle. Against the run, limit the big runs, limit the missed tackles, and the team should be fine.

Getting after Flacco

60 minutes of Steve Smith vs. Brandon Flowers. That's all I ask. Smith isn't the explosive option he once was but he still seems to make a big play week in and week out. Flowers has been outstanding this year.

"When quarterbacks have thrown to the man Brandon Flowers is defending, they've had an NFL Passer Rating of 54.5, which is the 3rd lowest among CBs who have been targeted at least 40 times."-PFF

It feels like a lifetime since the Chargers have had a true #1 CB and that's exactly what Flowers has been so far. Smith is the clear #1 WR in Baltimore (28 more targets than the closest WR) and someone they rely on to move the chains. Shareece Wright will likely face the speedy Torrey Smith. He's a burner that can be dangerous after the catch. Wright's job is simple; don't let Smith behind you.

No other perimeter target is a true threat, but again the line will provide time for Joe Flacco to find the open receiver. The Chargers pass rush and front 7 as a whole has been much improved the last 2 weeks since they have been able to play with more of a rotation.

Player

Win

Stop

QB Hit

Sack

Liuget

3.5

1

2

1

Reyes

3.5

1

1


Johnson

2

2.5



Lissemore

1

2



Mathews

0.5

2

1


Palepoi

1

1



Freeney

5


5


Ingram

6.5

2

2


Attaochu

4.5

1

2

1

The interior is going to be tough to penetrate, but it's a push and closer to an advantage for the Chargers on the edge. The Ravens have a very talented left tackle in Eugene Monroe, but as talented as he is, he seems to have lapses throughout the game. The right tackle is, in my opinion, the weak link. Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu have a superior athletic advantage against Ricky Wagner. That's the matchup the Chargers have to take advantage of. Sprinkle in a few overload blitzes and find a way to get Flacco to throw off of his back foot where he's prone to mistakes. Weddle has been so close to an interception the past few weeks; could this be the week? I think so.

Goals

  • 50% or less TD's in the Red Zone

  • 3 or fewer explosive plays

  • 40% or less on 3rd downs

Prediction

The Chargers enter this road contest as 6 point underdogs. Vegas predicts the final score to be 26-20, Ravens. This is probably the most complete team aside from the Broncos the Chargers have faced all year. On one hand, I can see the Ravens being able to establish the run on offense and keep San Diego in just long enough down and distances so they can't convert on 3rd downs, limiting their opportunity to score. On the other hand, the Chargers rejuvenated pass rush is able to force Flacco to make mistakes and the offense gets back to the long sustaining drives that end up in points. I'll go with the latter; 23-21 Chargers.