We all remember what happened when the Chargers and Ravens met in week 16 of the regular season. The Ravens simply outplayed, and out-coached, the Chargers for four quarters on their way to a dominant 22-10 road win.
You can focus on the referees if you want to, but that game was ultimately decided by the X’s and O’s, as the Baltimore coaching staff repeatedly found and exploited the right matchups and the players executed to near perfection. Whether we want to admit it or not, it was a clinic.
The question is: what do the Los Angeles Chargers need to do differently if they’re going to win in Baltimore this weekend?
Simply put, they need to make a lot of adjustments. And many of them need to come on offense. I think Anthony Lynn and Ken Whisenhunt need to reevaluate the pace of the game, their personnel groupings, and the individual matchups they need/want to exploit if they’re going to win this game.
In this article, we’re going to outline five adjustments the Chargers offense must make to be successful in Baltimore. Some of them are significant changes to the Chargers offensive approach, while others represent getting back to doing what the Chargers do best. Either way, they all have to be made if the Chargers are going to win.
Let’s get started:
Adjustment #1: Pick up the pace
Everyone, including the Ravens, is aware of the Chargers tendency to use every last second of the play clock before snapping the ball. While this, in theory, allows Rivers to read and adjust to the defense, it can also allow defenses to adapt to what Rivers is doing by disguising their intentions. During their week 16 matchup, the Ravens confused and frustrated Rivers at the line by waiting until the last second to reveal their plans.
That’s why I think the Chargers need to overhaul their tempo completely. Ditch the huddle between plays, rush to the line and snap the ball with 0:10-0:15 seconds on the clock. Don’t let the Ravens adjust to what Rivers is doing at the line before the ball is snapped. In addition to likely catching the Baltimore defense off guard by playing faster, I think this approach would help force more favorable matchups for the Chargers playmakers, which should help get them into an early rhythm and produce a couple of early scores.
Adjustment #2: Spread them out
One thing that struck me when I broke down the week 16 game this week was the number of plays the Chargers ran with multiple tight ends and running backs on the field. The goal, I’m sure, was two-fold: max protection for Philip Rivers and loosen up the defense with play-action. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence was that Ravens were able to remain in their base defense, play five or six-man zone schemes behind the pass rush, and easily cover the limited receiving options the Chargers sent down the field. The numbers worked in Baltimore’s favor.
As scary as it might seem, the Chargers need to sacrifice max protection for additional weapons by spreading the Ravens out. In my opinion, this gives the Chargers their best shot at forcing favorable matchups for their playmakers. Whether it’s getting the running backs loose against linebackers, creating space for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams in the middle of the field, or maybe forcing Tony Jefferson to run with Tyrell Williams, Philip Rivers would suddenly have several matchups from which to choose.
Adjustment #3: Attack the edges on the ground
The Baltimore Ravens are blessed with a deep rotation of talented interior defenders and, as a result, there is precious little running room for opposing backs between the tackles. As was the case during their first meeting, most teams run it between the tackles a few times before abandoning the run entirely. What they should be doing is running off tackle at Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and Matt Judon. Suggs and Smith, in particular, have been liabilities against the run all season.
I fully expect Ken Whisenhunt to try to get Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler on the perimeter of the defense tomorrow. He should to that with a variety of stretch, end-around, jet sweep and toss sweep concepts, which, for whatever reason, have not been part of the game plan in recent weeks. I think this has the potential of getting Melvin and Austin rolling early, while also having the added advantage of giving the Los Angeles offensive line a chance to operate in space as athletes, which is where they thrive.
Adjustment #4: Feature the backs in the passing game
The Los Angeles running backs have disappeared from the passing game throughout the last four or five games. Except for the Kansas City game, and using Justin Jackson as a bailout option against the Ravens, Ken Whisenhunt has lost track of one of the defining characteristics of this offense. This was especially perplexing in week 16 because the Baltimore linebackers all struggle in coverage.
I would be utterly shocked if we don’t see the Chargers make a concerted effort to isolate Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler against CJ Mosely, Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor in space. This should involve swing passes, a variety of screen passes, and quick hitters in the middle of the field. If executed properly, it should take some pressure off of the offensive line by getting the ball out of Rivers hands while also keeping the Chargers ahead of the chains with short and mid-range throws. Failing to make this adjustment should get Ken Whisenhunt fired.
Adjustment #5: Bust the seams
Whether the result of a physical issue, or the byproduct of a lack of pressure, Philip Rivers has had a hard time driving the ball to the boundaries in recent weeks. Conversely, the Ravens pass defense has struggled to defend vertical and in-breaking routes in the middle of the field. Nickel corners Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young have had a hard time handling speed in the middle of the field. I think the Chargers will also be looking to force Eric Weddle to cover Mike Williams in the slot when they can.
The truth is, the Chargers managed to force favorable matchups for Travis Benjamin and Mike Williams in the first game between these teams, Philip didn’t have the time to exploit them. It was the Chargers who laid the blueprint the Browns followed in week 17; it just didn’t show up on the scoreboard. I think it shows up this week. The key here will be for Philip to cut it loose early in the route, as opposed to falling into his habit of holding the ball while he waits for his target to get farther downfield.
As much as everyone likes to say the Ravens dominated the Chargers in week 16, it’s easy to overlook the fact that everything went right for them in that game. They owned the field position advantage, got the benefit of virtually every call, Lamar Jackson made the one throw he had to make, and they bullied the Chargers offensive line. And, in spite of all of that, the Chargers had the ball with a chance to take the lead with 3:00 left in the game. I’m not sure they can expect everything such a perfect storm to befall them in the rematch.
And that is why I expect the Chargers to win this game. I think the Los Angeles defense holds the Ravens offense under 20 points, the offense finds a way to make two or three big plays, and the visitors come away with a stressful, hard-fought 23-16 road playoff win. They have to pick up the pace, spread the Ravens out, challenge the Baltimore edge defenders with the run game, feature the backs in the passing game and bust the seams to get it done.