1. Work the Middle
There is a good chance San Diego will take a page out of Pittsburgh’s book by compressing their coverage on outside routes. Specifically, if they invert the coverage like Pittsburgh did –keep the corner deep and bring the safety underneath—it’ll be extremely tough for Joe Flacco to find Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones outside the hashes.
The Ravens’ answer was to use short dump offs to Ray Rice over the middle. But with Rice, the routes can be limited to small 4 or 5 yard gains unless he breaks a few tackles. The routes need to stretch beyond the linebackers. Deeper square-ins and post routes should be dialed up consistently. This could be the type of game in which Tandon Doss could fill in nicely as an extra slot receiver, especially if tight end Dennis Pitta is limited.
2. Rev up the Offense
The Ravens will need to be a lot more efficient overall against San Diego than they were against Pittsburgh. That means they’ll need to complete passes consistently, especially in third-and-long situations. Meanwhile, San Diego can’t get a consistent pass rush going with their down line. The Chargers will likely take some more chances with the blitz to disrupt Flacco’s rhythm.
If the Ravens are able to get their protections down, this is the type of game in which Flacco should be given free rein to pass early and often—albeit with less empty sets where he is exposed in the pocket. The offense will need to play at a higher tempo than they have in their other road games.
3. Change up the Snap Count
It’s becoming pretty evident that opposing defenses have the timing of Baltimore’s snap count down pat. The entire Pittsburgh front seven was consistently a step quicker than the Baltimore offensive line
This has been a problem in all of the Ravens’ road games. The direct correlation is hard to miss, especially when pass protection has been awful in all of these performances.
The Ravens need to keep San Diego guessing with quick counts and vary their timing on longer counts. Either way, they can’t continue down this predictable path.
1. Big Challenge
Last year, San Diego exposed Baltimore’s man-to-man coverage with their outstanding outside pass catchers. While receiver Vincent Jackson is no longer in sunny California, the Chargers still boast a tandem of receivers that look like an NBA front court. Both Malcolm Floyd and Danario Alexander are 6-5, while venerable tight end Antonio Gates is 6-4 and built like a power forward.
In particular, Alexander has taken on the role that Jackson left behind. While he doesn’t have Jackson’s speed, he’s an incredible athlete in his own right.
The Ravens will need to play it safe against this group. The safeties cannot get caught out of position and San Diego’s “bigs” should be funneled to the inside on all routes.
2. Contain the Wild River
In last season’s demolition of the Baltimore defense, quarterback Phillip Rivers was in a zone. He had a bead on what look the Ravens were in and picked the Baltimore blitz apart.
This year, Rivers comes in limping. He’s a turnover machine and the pressure is on for a big performance.
To keep Rivers from going off, the defense needs to play under control. When they show blitz, they need to time it properly without giving Rivers too much time to audible. Moreover, the blitz needs to be unpredictable to keep Rivers guessing.
3. Tackle/End Stunt
Last Sunday, the Ravens broke out their tackle/end stunt games with Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. This is a play in which the defensive end will loop around the edge and take on the LT, while the outside backer will crash inside. Both players ran the TE stunt to perfection against Pittsburgh. While the duo is not at 100% health, they showed that they can be devastating when they’re on the same page.
In a game in which left tackle Jared Gaither won’t suit up against his former team, it’s time to turn Suggs and Ngata loose against rookie Mike Harris.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Kelechi Osemele vs. Shaun Phillips
Phillips remains the heart and soul of the San Diego pass rush. He is deceptively strong, and uses an array of pass rush moves to get a tackle unbalanced. This will be a tough challenge for Osemele. He’ll need to play with proper balance and technique. If he overextends, Phillips will take advantage with the inside spin move.