This may be the game that decides the post-season fate for both the Ravens and the Chargers. Both teams are 7-4. Both teams have looked impressive at times and other times, not so much. It may surprise you to learn (I know it did for me) that the Ravens are 6th in league for both scoring offense and scoring defense. (The Bolts are 15th and 7th, respectively) The Chargers face a difficult challenge on the road this Sunday against a quality team that is just as hungry and desperate for a win as they are.
UBIC – Offense
Justin Forsett, RB (#29) The Ravens started this season with their starting running back facing some discipline for off-field issues. (Yes, we pride ourselves on our insightful looks at the game here at BFTB.) The original plan was to use Bernard Pierce to deal with the anticipated 2-4 game suspension of Ray Rice and then return him to his back-up role, which he did adequately in 2013.
Forsett, on the market after spending 2013 on the IR in Jacksonville, and a known quantity to new OC Gary Kubiak (he coached Forsett in 2012 at Houston), was brought in for depth. He was not expected to contribute much this season, with Rice and Pierce ahead of him on the depth chart. This fit in well with Forsett’s NFL resume; not contributing much as a perennial back-up or insurance policy.
This plan did not pan out for many reasons. First, was the release of Rice after the emergence of the video from inside the Atlantic City casino elevator. Next, was the indefinite suspension slapped on Rice by the NFL. The next change was with Pierce. He started the season somewhat nicked up and ineffective when healthy enough to play. The Ravens, still thinking of Foresett as a back-up, split carries between him and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. Given what Forsett’s career had been prior this season, expectations were low. His "best" season was in 2009, with Seattle, when he rushed 114 times for 619 yards.
His eye opening game this year was in Week 6, when he rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries. That game put him firmly in the driver’s seat as "the guy" in Baltimore’s backfield. He is coming off a career best game of 22 carries for 182 yards and 2 TD’s against New Orleans last Monday night. He has already established career marks in rushing attempts and rushing yards (903) this season. He is certainly hoping to go over 1,000 on Sunday; obviously, the Bolts defense will need to shut him down on their way to a road win.
Kyle Juszczyk, FB (#44) The last name is pronounced "youzcheck" and there are few things that intrigue me about this second year free agent FB out of Harvard. Well, those things are pretty much it: That Baltimore uses a fullback (he is a good lead blocker), that he made the team at a position that is largely fading away in all levels of football, and that he graduated from Harvard. At 6’2", 248 pounds, he is a LOAD as a lead blocker. He has also caught 16 passes for 175 yards so far in 2014. Interestingly, has no rushing attempts in 2014. Look for him right in front of Forsett on rushing plays and providing bodyguard and outlet services to Joe Flacco on early down passing plays.
UBIC - Defense
Daryl Smith, ILB (#51) The Ravens are blessed with good blend of young athletic linebackers and older savvy veterans that still have some game left. Smith falls into the latter category. Originally drafted by Jacksonville in 2004, he had a remarkable run in Jacksonville, missing only 4 games from 2004-2011 while holding down the Mike LB position for the Jags with decent production. The injury dice finally rolled a snake eyes on him in 2012, and he appeared in only 2 games in that last year of his contract with the Jags.
With Ray Lewis retiring at the end of 2012, the Ravens needed ILB help and gave Smith a shot. He has appeared in all 27 games possible since opening day 2013. He has taken over the role of signal caller for the defense and mentor to Courtney Upshaw and CJ Mosley. At 6’2" and 235 pounds, Smith is a little undersized for a typical MLB, and he has lost a step over a decade in the league. Still, he will be around the ball if it is ran or passed between the tackles and his diagnostic ability is first rate. His ability to shed blockers and his tackling technique are also what you would expect from a 10 year veteran.
While CJ Mosley is leading the team in tackles and a part of the defensive rookie of the year discussion, Smith is second on the team with 51. He is also adding strip fumbles to his game; he has forced 3 fumbles this season. With the younger and faster Upshaw and Mosley getting to a ball carrier first, Smith will come in and go for the ball. I suspect that Mathews will have sore at the end of the game. For those of you that recall Takeo Spikes, Smith is much the same player, 10 pounds lighter and a little quicker.
Pernell McPhee, OLB/DE (#90) It would probably not surprise any Bolts fan to learn that the Ravens sack leaders in 2014 are old frenemy Elvis Dumervil (12.5) and longtime Ravens stalwart Terrell Suggs (6). Learning that McPhee is #3 on the team with 4 sacks may surprise you. Listed as both a DE and OLB, McPhee is 6’2" and weighs 274. The Ravens turn particularly dangerous on 3rd and long situations, because they will bring in both Dumervil and McPhee, with Upshaw and another DE rotating out. With 3 sack specialists on the field, in both 2 and 3 point stances, this causes some real problems for pass protection. The Bolts can minimize McPhee and Dumervil's impact by either avoiding 3rd and long or operating in a hurry-up offense most of the game.