Beyond the first matchup with Denver, the Chargers had their ugliest performance of the year against Baltimore. Here’s what they can learn from that to win the wildcard rematch.
For the first time in 5 years and just the 2nd time in the last decade, playoff football is here for Rivers and the Chargers, but it won’t last long if they repeat their week 16 performance vs. Baltimore.
Everything said about how to beat the Ravens ironically became true for how the Chargers lost in the first matchup. “Sell out to stop the run on early downs, and see if Lamar Jackson can win with his arm on 3rd down.”
While the Chargers stable of running backs is debatably the deepest group in the NFL, they haven’t put up the gaudy numbers on the ground that the Ravens have as of late. It was the Ravens pass rush, and their use of stunts as well as directing their blitzes up the middle where Rivers is much less capable of escaping, that had the Chargers in 3rd and very long situations.
The Chargers were 4 for 13 on 3rd downs in the last matchup. That tends to happen when an offense gives up four sacks for 34 yards and eight penalties for 69 yards. Their average yards to go in that situation was 3rd & 11. The first conversion of the night didn’t come until the last play of the 3rd quarter.
This led to what looked like the Norv Turner-era offense in Week 16. Too many 7-step drops, not nearly enough taking what the defense gives you. Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale capitalized on this, sending 5-man pressures out of Cover 3.
A common criticism of Rivers comes to light on this play. When the offense isn’t producing the way it is used to performing, Rivers is trying to make a play whether it’s there or not. Against the blitz, Rivers is waiting for Keenan’s 15-yard route to develop (on a throw it seems he could’ve made) instead of seeing Gordon come open in the flat. Easy 5 yards for Gordon even if he’s tackled 1-on-1. If he breaks that, he’s got open field until the Ravens side of the 50-yard line.
Outside of a couple of intermediate dig routes by Keenan Allen, every. single. reception. in this game came on underneath routes. The Ravens tackle well, but they don’t have the team speed to match up with all these receiving options. Those options will now include Austin Ekeler, and what seems like Hunter Henry for the first time this season.
Hunter Henry returning, even on a pitch count would be an incredible lift for the offense. Even 15 snaps could make a big difference in this game. This Ravens defense has few weak spots, but they did give up 965 yards to tight ends this season, 9th most in the NFL due in part to their larger LB corps and lack of size in their safety duo. If Henry can return and stretch the seems of the defense, that will help an already dangerous passing game become that much more effective underneath.
Ken Whisenhunt was relegated to more deep ball offense than he wanted to last game. Regardless, he missed with the game plan the first time around. If the Chargers play their game, the one that had Rivers on an MVP pace earlier this year, the Chargers are much more successful this time around.