I’ll be completely honest. When I did my series on predicting the Chargers’ 2018 season record way back in August, I really felt like this year was going to be special. At the same time, I was always teetering on the fence of being “real” and allowing the usual pessimism to seep into my work.
As I went week by week, I tried to be transparent about my thought-process while I decided if the Chargers were going to win or lose that week’s match-up. I predicted them starting the year strong (I picked the wrong Chiefs game for them to win), and found myself in the month of December with five games left and the Chargers win column sitting packed to the brim.
I had them losing to the Steelers, Chiefs, and Ravens in order to bring their record to 12-4 by the end of it all after I had them starting 10-1 through the first 12 weeks. This wasn’t wasn’t because I truly believed they would lose to the Steelers and Ravens, but that they were the most likely losses at a time where I felt I needed to force a couple more games into the loss column.
Now that we are finally here with the regular season winding down, it’s absolutely amazing to see the team in an actual position to make my lofty prediction a reality. Even crazier to think that they could actually finish with an even better record than my 12-4 prediction.
Unfortunately, the final two games of the season are still likely to be as tough as they come. Baltimore has the top defense in the NFL, allowing a league-low 290.2 total yards and 18.1 points per game to their opponents.
On the other side of the ball, they employ Lamar Jackson, one of the most dynamic athletes in the entire league who has shown a propensity for winning games since he took over the starting gig in week 11, going 4-1 in his last five starts.
While Baltimore’s offense as a whole hasn’t shown an exciting amount of production under Jackson, it’s their ability to get done what they need to in order to win games that’s kept them in the playoff hunt.
Saturday night should be an all-out slug-fest between two teams that still have a lot left to play for and I couldn’t be more excited. With all that being said, let’s take a look at the three things I’ll be watching for the most once the Bolts take the field this weekend.
1.) How will the Chargers attempt to defend the Ravens eclectic run game?
The Ravens currently rank second in the league with 141.9 rushing yards per game and fourth in the NFL with 17 total rushing touchdowns on the year. In stark contrast, they also rank 18th in yards per attempt with a 4.3 average.
Baltimore also happens to lead the league in rushing attempts with a whopping 465. This tells me that the Ravens survive on being efficient with their rushing through their immense volume. In fact, Jackson averages 17 carries a game from his quarterback spot, alone.
The Ravens do a phenomenal job of keeping themselves ahead of the chains and consistently getting themselves into third-and-short situations that are easily converted behind their formidable offensive line.
.@ravens @Lj_era8 is much more difficult to slow down than what anyone is showing. And #LJ is a great decision maker and an elite athlete. And RUN GAME OC, Greg Roman ran this offense all the way to the SB. @Chargers are next up. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/ruBxTVP92P— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) December 20, 2018
If I were to put money on the team’s game plan, I would say this is a big game for Derwin James staying up and around the line of scrimmage. Keeping the most athletic players up front is a must. The secondary is going to have to win their 1-on-1 matchups to allow the biggest threat to be neutralized. If Jackson is able to win through the air then he deserves to win this game.
2.) How will Melvin Gordon look in his first game since week 12?
In the Chargers week 12 contest against the Arizona Cardinals, Gordon forced the coaching staff to let him play in a game he felt was a statement game after the team’s loss to the Denver Broncos the prior week.
The worst case scenario came to fruition as Gordon sustained a Grade 2 MCL sprain in the third quarter that has kept him out the last three weeks. Against all the odds, the Chargers went 3-0 during that span.
Derrick Henry leads all running backs in PFF grade through 15 weeks. pic.twitter.com/TgPBfAgQRj— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 19, 2018
However, three weeks is a long time to miss and, with the Ravens run defense as stout as it is, can we expect the same old Flash? In my opinion, I do think the deck is stacked against him, but the guy was on pace for six-straight games with over 150 yards from scrimmage prior to his injury. In his five previous games played, including the AZ game, Gordon failed to rush for 5.0 yards per carry just once.
In all honesty, this might be one of those games where Gordon may only rush for about 50-60 yards but still finds a way to get involved through the passing game. 50-ish rushing yards to go along with 5-6 catches for another 40-50 receiving yards sounds right to me.
3.) How will Eric Weddle and Philip Rivers handle their familiarity and will it favor one team over the other?
Rivers and Weddle were teammates, and good friends, while the latter was with the Chargers from 2007-2015.
On Saturday, the two meet for the first time since 2016 when the Ravens squeaked out a 29-26 victory in Baltimore after a game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker, one of his five made that day, despite Rivers throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
In a recent press conference, when asked about the potential chess match between him and Weddle, Rivers was asked if the safety’s experience with Rivers gave him advantage when the quarterback makes changes pre-snap.
Rivers didn’t think it would make much of a difference as he believes focusing on what each signal meant could potentially cause Weddle to take his focus off the bigger picture and, in turn. burden his play.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be an exciting match-up to see these two old friends go to battle against each other and I expect nothing short of a nostalgia-filled slug-fest at the StubHub Center.