When the Ravens play the Chargers on Sunday, they will be renewing the closest series in their history. No team Baltimore has ever played against has a closer combined point total than San Diego (Ravens 169-Chargers 166). In nine games against the Chargers, the Ravens are 5-4. But when Baltimore has hosted San Diego, they are 2-0.
Here are five things to keep your eye on in this game between two teams battling for playoff position.
Baltimore’s commitment to its run game
Baltimore boasts the No. 6 rush offense in the NFL; they gain an average of 132.4 yards per game. Justin Forsett is the main reason for that, as he leads the league in yards per attempt (5.8, minimum of 50 attempts).
In their last five wins, the Ravens ran the ball 33 times per game. In their last five losses, the Ravens ran the ball 19 times per game. Don’t mess with what’s not broken. If I was Gary Kubiak, I’d call no less than 40 running plays on Sunday.
Philip Rivers is a savvy veteran who has started every game since 2006. However, when things don’t go his way, he loses his composure fairly often. It takes persistence to get to Rivers, literally and figuratively, but once you do, he’s been known to force throws and lose his cool.
It doesn’t help that his offensive line has been mired in injuries. San Diego will start rookie Chris Watt at center this week (their fourth center of the season). The previous three suffered season-ending injuries.
Expect Dean Pees to call “A-gap” blitzes early and often to test the young and inexperienced Watt.
Will San Diego start slow?
The Chargers have proven they can move the ball and put up a lot of points, but in their last five games played on the east coast, they are 2-3 (including three consecutive losses).
It usually takes about a quarter to a half for the Chargers to get acclimated to playing a game on the east coast. If the Ravens can gain an early lead, they should be able to maintain that lead en route to their eighth win of the year. But if they let the Chargers hang around and gather momentum, this game could go either way.
Rick Wagner vs. Jarret Johnson
Earlier this year, CBS Sports‘ Pete Prisco named Rick Wagner to his mid-season All-Pro list. Before training camp, Wagner was an unknown. Now, he’s playing right tackle at an elite level.
There will likely be a few times in the game when the Ravens run a stretch play to the right and Wagner will have to seal off or kick out former Raven Jarret Johnson. Along with Michael Oher, Johnson is tied for second (among non-special teams players) in Ravens history with 80 consecutive starts.
It’ll be very interesting to see the young Wagner, playing at such a high level, against the veteran Johnson, who set the edge as good as anyone during his time in Baltimore.
Ryan Mathews vs. Baltimore’s run defense
After returning from an 8-week absence, Ryan Mathews has been running the ball very effectively for the Chargers. In his last two games since coming back, Mathews has rushed for 175 yards on only 28 carries (6.25 yards per carry).
If you saw the Ravens run defense Monday night, you know they are not easy to run on. Baltimore’s rush defense allows an average of 88.3 yards per game, which ranks them fifth in the NFL.
Mathews’ effectiveness and durability are the keys to the Chargers’ offense. If he can’t get going and the Chargers become one-dimensional, the Ravens may be able to pull their starters in the fourth quarter.
Ravens 33, Chargers 17