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Chargers vs. Ravens 5 Questions: How does John Harbaugh’s ST background benefit the Ravens

With their season on the line and backs against the wall, the Chargers must overcome one of the toughest AFC opponents in primetime

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Chargers are back under the primetime lights in their matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is a team with a true identity, thriving off physical trench play on both sides of the football and never neglecting the third phase of the game, boasting one of the best kickers in league history.

Kyle Barber from Baltimore Beatdown was kind enough to join us to answer some pressing questions leading up to the game, and he provided some great insights, including the benefits he believes the Ravens receive by having a former special teams coordinator as their head coach. Thanks again to Kyle for taking the time to answer these questions!

UPDATE - here were my answers over at Baltimore Beatdown

1) The Chargers have statistically been better at defending the run this year than in Brandon Staley’s first two seasons with the team, but it’s hard to determine whether this is from defensive improvement or because the passing defense has significantly regressed. How do you think the Ravens will attack this defense, with how exceptional they are at running the ball?

I don’t see the Ravens slowing down their rushing attack. Against the Chargers, look for them to go at them intentionally. The combination of Gus Edwards, rookie Keaton Mitchell and the ever-dangerous Lamar Jackson are just a force. And the Ravens are expected to have all five offensive linemen healthy and playing on Sunday, so they’ll be going head-first into gashing for yardage and in the red zone. Watch for Mitchell to get a handful of carries in the middle of the field but with Edwards being the go-to back in the red zone. He has 10 touchdowns, with nearly all of them being goal line carries.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

2) Mike Macdonald is getting serious head coaching chatter thanks to the success of Baltimore’s defense. What would you say is the fundamental philosophy of his defense, and are there any exploitable weaknesses for a skilled offensive coordinator to scheme around?

I asked Mike Macdonald that exact question back on February 2, 2022. Here’s the transcript!

The philosophy that we saw with former Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale’s defense was aggressiveness and unique blitz concepts. You said there would be a lot of carryover, because you were a part of the rebuild of this defense with him. Is that a philosophy that you hold – the aggressiveness, unique blitz concepts? (Kyle Barber)


“The aggressiveness – absolutely – is going to carry over, but I think you’ve got to look through the lens [of], ‘What does aggressiveness actually mean?’ It’s about keeping the offense off balance and where they’re not really believing what they’re seeing on a down-to-down basis,” Macdonald said. “So, a lot of times, that will come with the schemed-up pressure – that’ll happen. A lot of times it could be a fake pressure, it could look like this coverage and play like another one. You’re changing the stress points of the zones and things like that and just trying to create doubt at all times. You want to be the one pushing the envelope, rather than the other way around. So, that aggressiveness, that was something that … That’s a principle of the Ravens organization – is aggressiveness.”

Macdonald’s delivered inventive and creative blitz packages this season. It’s been impressive to see guys like defensive tackle Michael Pierce sprinting into coverage while the edges blitz and bring in extra linebackers. It’s another thing to see them work, too. The players are really working for one another and for each other and have bought into this scheme and structure.

Yes, there are weaknesses, but there aren’t many. The Browns beat them by being more physical, ultimately rushing them out of their own stadium. Their cornerback depth is getting a bit thin due to the injury to Marlon Humphrey and they haven’t found their No. 3 guy after Brandon Stephens. They’ve been rotating in Rock Ya-Sin, Ronald Darby and second-year cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

3) John Harbaugh was a special-teams coach for nine years, but spent his last year under Andy Reid and the Eagles as their defensive backs coach because he believed it would open the door to more head coaching opportunities. A year later, he was introduced by the Ravens as their new head coach. Many Chargers fans believe Ryan Ficken is an up-and-coming star coach that should be in consideration as their next head coach. Are there any insights you can provide, both good and bad, to how you feel John Harbaugh’s background has influenced his competency as a head coach?

This is an excellent question, and one I wish I had better answers for. I’ll be taking this question and asking him when he’s next available because this is brilliant.

First, I think having a former special teams coordinator for the head coach like Harbaugh gives the Ravens the benefit of not ignoring the third phase of the game. The Ravens work hard and focus on special teams each day. I’m not saying they’re the only club to do so, but his involvement is recognized there. They developed numerous special teams players over the years, from kickers and punters and snappers to gunners and return players. When the margin for error is so thin in the NFL, those return yards or those yards denied by the opposing returner are gold. The field goals are the flashy points on the board but those punts that put the opposing team 90+ yards from the end zone are critical, too.

I would imagine Harbaugh is highly involved in both the offense and defense, but he’s not calling plays and dictating each snap. Managing a game, the clock, the players and the intricacies of 60 minutes of football is a job, and calling plays and being partially absent for half of it because you’re staring at a call sheet may not be best suited. That’s more an opinion of mine, but I’d argue it’s true. The Ravens have play callers on offense and defense. They have their guys in Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken and Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to call plays. Harbaugh is involved and on the head set and communicating with them, but their ability to solely focus on the play sheets while he manages the game and the play calls is beneficial, I’d argue.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

4) Who is an under-the-radar contributor on the offensive and defensive side of the ball Chargers fans should look out for this weekend?

If you haven’t been watching the Ravens are tracking stats, I’d say defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is the player to watch. He has 9.5 sacks as an interior rusher and is blowing up game plans right now. He’s been volatile as a rusher but remains disciplined as a run-stopper, too, so it’s not just him blowing off run-assignments to ring the contract year cash register with the gaudy numbers, either.

On offense, look for wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Many have come to see the flashy plays from rookie Zay Flowers and veteran Odell Beckham Jr., but Bateman’s been beating his defenders consistently. If Jackson can hit him on-target, look for him to find the end zone a time or two on Sunday

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

5) DraftKings Sportsbook has this game at a 48-point over/under. Chargers fans really don’t have faith in their defense at this point in the season, but do you think the Ravens defense will prevent this game from turning into an offensive shootout? Would you take the over or the under here?

I’ll take the under because of the Ravens defense. They’re so strong and in so many ways. Their pass rush is dominating right now with the veterans Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, and their depth is generating sacks, too. Their pressure rates are high, they have playmakers across the board and they’ve really been in the driver’s seat for most of the season. They just need to close the door on teams before they find themselves in ugly fourth quarter situations.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports