Ravens coaches and players watched a horror film this week: game footage of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Los Angeles (11-3) is balanced on both sides of the ball and are the most talented team the Ravens have faced this season.
The schedule-makers didn’t do the Ravens any favors, forcing them to fly across the country on a short week against a team that had two extra days to prepare.
Coach John Harbaugh was not in the mood to entertain the logistical challenges of the game.
“Well, the conspiracy part of it would be great for you to write about – if that’s where you’re going,” Harbaugh said. “You’re not going to get a quote from me on that, sorry. But, it’s one more obstacle. It’s one more thing that makes it tougher. So, bring it on.”
There is a sense of urgency in Owings Mills.
If the Ravens lose, they could be knocked out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“You think you need to win every game,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “So, this is really no different. We’ve been feeling that since we’ve got back off the bye week – that every game is going to be a playoff-type game. It’s definitely big going into this one – Saturday night, prime time game. It’ll definitely be huge to get this victory.”
The Chargers have the NFL’s sixth-ranked offense and are eighth on defense.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is having an MVP-caliber season, throwing for 3,951 passing yards with 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
“Phew, he’s good! Really, I mean, in respect to the game, he’s going to go down as one of the greatest,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “Everybody sees it, everybody knows it. You can’t say that he’s like somebody else; he’s Philip Rivers. I think the young quarterbacks aspire to be like him, the way he has command of the offense.
“He has such a competitive spirit. As a defensive coordinator, it’s a lot of fun to go against it, because it’s a chess match on every play,” he said.
The Chargers offense will get an even bigger boost with the return of running back Melvin Gordon, who missed the last three weeks with a knee injury. He has run for 802 yards with nine touchdowns. Gordon also has nine runs for 20 or more yards.
In short, Los Angeles is explosive and capable of breaking open a game.
The key for the Ravens will be to keep the Chargers’ dynamic offense off the field. This will be the first prime-time NFL game for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has gone 4-1 since taking over as the starter.
Jackson leads the team with 566 yards rushing on 114 carries with three touchdowns. The Ravens will need to dominate time of possession to win this game.
“Every team in the league is tough,” Jackson said. “It’s not like college, where some teams might be ranked lower than the other. Every team is good. You never know what you’re going to face until you’re out there.”
The Ravens (8-6) own the AFC’s No. 6 playoff seed, holding tiebreakers over Indianapolis and Tennessee. The Colts host the Giants (5-9) and the Titans are also at home against Redskins (7-7) this week.
The Ravens could take over first place in the AFC North with a win over Los Angeles and a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers to the New Orleans Saints.
However, the Ravens will be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose and the Steelers, Colts and Titans each win.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle spent nine seasons with the Chargers before he was let go by the team. He was recently named to the Pro Bowl for the sixth time, including three as a Raven.
Weddle’s focus is on winning the game, not revenge.
“Everything is right there for us to go get, and what better way than to go across the country and play one of the best teams, if not the best, playing right now in the league to earn our way into the playoffs?” Weddle said. “That’s what I’m excited about. The past is in the past. I have no discomfort, hatred, whatever. That was almost four years ago, really, in my timeline, and they’ve moved. They’re basically a different team to me, and I wish them well. I’m excited to lead my team and try to get a win.”