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1) Backs taking on backers: If the Baltimore offense is to be efficient on Sunday afternoon, the pass protection will need to be superb, and certainly much better than it was against Cleveland.
The Chargers have not gotten after the quarterback as frequently as they did a year ago, but this is still a lethal group of pass-rushers. Shawn Merriman and Shaun Phillips are essentially defensive ends with the ability to drop into zone pockets.
The two strong side rushers are tough to deal with because they are too quick for tackles to keep pace with, and they are too big for tailbacks and tight ends to match up against.
That said, the Ravens count on their extra blockers to pick up blitzers in protection situations. This group will need to recognize where Phillips and Merriman are coming from and impede their path to the quarterback.
2) Passes in the flat: One way that the Ravens can aid their protection scheme is to slow down the San Diego pass-rush. Timed execution of screens, flare passes and dump-offs should enable the offense to extend drives and hit at the spots that are vacated by the Charger backers.
Moreover, the use of the chip play could be the best way to exploit the San Diego blitz. The play –in which a back momentarily occupies a linebacker, only to release as a receiver into the open fieldâ€”was heavily used in the preseason, but has not seen the light of day in the Ravensâ€™ in-season playbook. It needs to be a part of the game plan in this coming game.
3) Away from Cromartie: Antonio Cromartie has emerged as a budding star for the San Diego Chargers. Tabbed as a raw prospect from Florida State, Cromartie fell down the draft board in 2006. The scouts believed that Cromartie would have been a top five pick in â€˜07 had he stayed in school for an extra year. Well, in his second year in the NFL, Cromartie appears headed to the Pro Bowl. Not only does he possess the physical skills to run with any receiver in the league, but he is also getting better at diagnosing plays. Once the ball is in his hands, he has the ability to run in for a score going the other way.
Suffice it to say that Kyle Boller should avoid Cromartie like the plague. The passing attack should test the other corners in the Chargersâ€™ stable.
1) Seven in the box: A year ago, defenses would commit eight and even nine defenders to stop the San Diego rushing attack. This season, defenses have been able to contain the rush with just seven defenders up front.
The difference in defensive success has had a domino effect on Philip Rivers. Rivers had more man-to-man opportunities to exploit, given that safeties often crept into the box. Now, the safeties are helping in coverage, especially against Antonio Gates. In turn, Rivers has had a tough timing finding the open receivers.
In order for the Ravens to keep the pressure on Rivers, they will also need to be able to stop San Diegoâ€™s ground game with just seven defenders. This means that the front seven will need to win their one-on-one matchups up front against the San Diego blockers.
The Ravens have been able to stop the run all year without having to use their safeties as run defenders. If tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg do their jobs and tie up the interior, the backers should be able to make stops along the line-of-scrimmage.
2) Forcing Rivers to hold the ball: Again, part of the reason for Riversâ€™ struggles this season has been due to the defensive adjustments that teams have made in defending him. Rivers is a smart quarterback, so he understands how to properly adjust against a blitz. But when he has to stay patient, and work against a softer coverage, he tends to struggle.
If Riversâ€™ primary reads are cut off, he takes too long to locate his secondary options. This delayed process has led to costly sacks and turnovers.
Much like the Ravens did against Derek Anderson a week ago, they will need to play tighter coverage and compress the windows that Rivers is looking to fit the ball through. At some point in the game, Rivers may press too hard and force a pass into double-coverage.
3) Tackling Tomlinson: The maddening issue for defenders who face Tomlinson is that even when they are stopping him consistently for most of the game, he has the ability to make one impact play to turn the tide. Whether as a passer, receiver or runner, Tomlinson can score on any given play.
In order to contain the reigning MVP, the Baltimore defense will need to play fundamentally sound football. They will need to take proper angles in pursuit and tackle well. Tomlinson cannot be allowed to gain extra yardage, especially in the open field.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch: Kris Dielman versus Haloti Ngata: This has the makings of a heavyweight bout. In just his second season, Ngata has already developed into one of the premier run defenders at the inside tackle position. He has nearly erased some of the technique issues he had a year ago. He stays low to the ground and uses his hands well. Dielman helps to spearhead the Chargersâ€™ power rushes off of the left side. He is a physical, coordinated blocker, who can blow his man off the ball.