Battle Plans: Ravens vs. Chargers
1. Misdirection running game
Over the past four games, the Ravens have built the type of complete ground attack that the front office wanted to see on the field since the offseason. Specifically, the Ravens have dialed up a running game that goes inside and outside, off an assortment of run designs.
The Chargers rank eighth in overall defense but they are only 23rd against the run and haven’t proven that they can maintain their gap integrity.
The Ravens movement, especially with the fullback and interior lineman leading the way, should prove a challenge to deal with. In this game, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should use as much misdirection movement as possible – whether that means having Vonta Leach pull to the opposite side of Ray Rice, or using more fake dive, pitch plays – to generate a few big plays on the ground.
2. Pick on Cason
The San Diego corners play aggressively and are usually given the responsibility of playing man coverage. At times they have held up, but at other times they’ve been beaten badly.
The person who has been picked on the most has been cornerback Antoine Cason. The former first round pick tends to take chances in coverage, and as a result, he can be burned on certain routes.
Cason should be Joe Flacco’s focus on Sunday night. Wherever he lines up, Flacco should air it out.
3. Downfield attack
To further highlight the point of attacking the Chargers downfield, both corners – Cason and Quentin Jammer – are prone to committing penalties when receivers get behind them.
For the Ravens, this would be the ideal game to take some chances and let the receivers run underneath some downfield throws. If they can’t hit on these plays entirely, they may be able to come away with a couple of interference or holding penalties.
1. Five-man rush
On third down against the Colts, especially in obvious passing situations, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano used perhaps his most effective rush combination to date. He kept Cory Redding, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs, and matched them with super subs Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger. Given Kruger’s ability to drop, this proved to be an effective combination.
With these five rushers on the field at the same time, the Ravens achieve two things. They effectively have all of their top rushers on the field. And they also have the ability to keep their other defenders in coverage.
Pagano should use more of these looks against the high-powered San Diego passing attack. The Chargers have the ability to spread the field, and when they do, bringing the blitz can be a dicey proposition.
Featuring more five-man looks would be the best way to pressure quarterback Phillip Rivers without leaving the back end defenders exposed.
2. Maintain coverage technique
This week’s matchup will prove to be an especially difficult one for the young group of corners. San Diego receivers run longer, developing double-patterns than any group in the league.
Based on head coach Norv Turner’s extension of Air Coryell’s concept, the vertical passing game that San Diego implements is predicated on receivers having ample time to get deep. Conversely, the corners are tested because they must maintain their balance and stay with receivers as they break in and out of their cuts.
If the corners are well-prepared, they should be able to keep receivers from getting behind them. But they will need to be ready to keep pace.
3. Backs in the flat
Aside from the Saints, the Chargers use their backs in the passing game as much or more than any offense in the league. The tailbacks – Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert – serve as safety valves for Rivers. The Chargers also design a number of screen plays for both backs to gain yards in space.
The Baltimore backers and edge defenders have to be prepared to defend these underneath receivers. Both backs have shown the ability to break tackles and gain yardage in the open field.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Jimmy Smith versus Vincent Jackson: For Smith, this matchup will be the definition of baptism by fire. Jackson is among the best vertical threats in the NFL. He is an incredible leaper, and he is built like a tight end. Smith has the size to match up but he’ll need to play with great technique to avoid losing Jackson downfield.