The Baltimore Ravens head to L.A. to take on the Chargers on Saturday night, needing a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive (or at least, realistic). Can they do it? RSR staff predict what we’ll see…
Well let’s face it folks, the Ravens are now in the single elimination tournament that ends each NFL season. No, the playoffs aren’t officially underway but for John Harbaugh & Co., they may as well be. Each week from here on in, the Ravens must win or, for all intents and purposes, it’s time to go home.
At (8-6) the Ravens find themselves in the same exact spot they’ve been in the past two seasons. Win and you’re in (I’m discarding the 0.0003% chance of elimination at 10-6)! In 2016 and 2017 they failed to close the deal. Will 2018 be any different?
Much of the focus this week has been on Lamar Jackson, and with good reason. He’s transformed the team by lifting the running game, protecting the defense with lengthy possessions, while masking deficiencies in the Ravens interior offensive line. But from my chair, the winner of this game will be determined by the chess match between Philip Rivers and the Ravens defense.
So, what will happen?
— Lamar Jackson’s opportunities outside the tackle box will be limited by the Chargers’ lateral mobility and speed. He’ll only carry the ball 10 times, 3 of which will be the result of his Houdini-like escapability from the pocket. He’ll still manage to get 70 yards on the ground.
— The Ravens passing game will run into road blocks and they’ll be limited to 150 yards. Exotic pressure from the Chargers will create problems for Jackson. He’ll be the victim of a strip sack thanks to Derwin James who will pour salt into the wounds of Ravens fans who coveted the talented safety on draft day 2018. Jackson will also be intercepted in the red zone.
— On the flip side, Rivers’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly will frustrate the Ravens defense which will get caught blitzing a few times – and it will prove costly.
— The Ravens fight to keep in close but in the end, their limitations in the passing game and Lamar’s inability to protect the football will oust the Ravens from the playoff chase.
Chargers 24 Ravens 20
— The Ravens have to fly across the country on a short week against a team that had two extra days to prepare. This definitely puts Baltimore at a disadvantage. However, coach John Harbaugh could potentially use the challenge to galvanize his players.
— Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is having an MVP-caliber season, throwing for 3,951 passing yards with 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He poses a huge challenge for the Ravens secondary that has been susceptible to giving up big plays. Rivers, however, is not very mobile so this could help the Ravens pass rush.
— The Chargers average 392 yards and 28.2 points per game. Los Angeles also is balanced in its ability to run and throw, in addition to being adept at protecting the ball (plus-3 turnover ratio).
— Lamar Jackson has successfully executed the run-pass option and has run for 431 of the Ravens 1,183 yards rushing over the past five games. The Ravens showed their grinding, ball-control offense can work against high-powered offensive teams, such as Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Baltimore will look to set the tone by running the ball once again against the Chargers to keep their sixth-ranked offense off the field.
— The Ravens will play hard, but the logistics of this game will be difficult to overcome. The Chargers (11-3) are balanced on both sides of the ball and are the most talented team the Ravens have faced this season.
Chargers 24 Ravens 20
The Chargers defense presents a challenge like Lamar Jackson & this ground game have yet to encounter. However, on the flip side, this Ravens ground attack poses a threat like the Chargers – nor anyone else – has faced in the NFL in a long, long time. LA’s defense is pretty on the stat sheet, but they aren’t prepared for this downhill rushing attack, nor for the speed of Jackson. They are athletic and can get after (slower) passers, but this rejuvenated OL should be able to continue to bulldoze just like they have been.
The wild card is, of course, Derwin James. Wouldn’t it just be a wonderful Festivus gift from the universe for James – whom many Ravens fans were screaming for the team to draft – somehow stuck a fork in Baltimore’s playoff hopes? I’m going to bank on the football gods being not quite that cruel. Fingers crossed.
LA just won a hard-fought comeback win against a divisional rival. We Ravens fans know all about how letdowns can occur following such games, don’t we? Despite the extra few days off, the Bolts are due for one of those.
— The Ravens ground game eclipses 200 yards yet again. Jackson and Gus Edwards both find paydirt.
— For some reason, the Ravens end up going for two at some point and succeeding. That clears the way for a Justin Tucker game-winner as time expires, and this weird score:
Ravens 25 Chargers 23
The Chargers present a much more difficult challenge than the Ravens have faced since Lamar has taken over. They are ranked 4th in rushing defense with maybe the best pass rush duo in the league. Phillip Rivers is in the conversation for MVP and coming off an impressive win against the Chiefs. The Ravens have a short week with only six days rest and must travel to the west coast while the Chargers have nine days of rest. These two teams match up well for what should be a very close and exciting game.
Lamar Jackson’s first five starts have been against five of the worst seven ranked defenses in the league. None of those defenses have come close to solving the problems Lamar presents yet. I don’t think the Chargers are going to either, but with that fast defense, they should at least be able to slow him down. There is never a secret anymore to the Ravens offensive game plan and there doesn’t need to be. The Ravens will again look to run the ball and control the clock as usual.
Philip Rivers will want to put some points up early and force the Ravens to play from behind. The current Ravens philosophy doesn’t lend itself well to playing from behind. Easier said than done on the Ravens stingy secondary. Rivers isn’t a mobile quarterback but he may not need to be; he is doing just fine throwing from the pocket. The Ravens have already faced and narrowly lost to the top two quarterbacks in the league in Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees. Now they are forced to face the third-best quarterback in the league.
-The Ravens will be held under 180 rushing yards and be forced to throw more as the Chargers get to an early lead.
-The Ravens pass rush will struggle with Judon possibly out of the game. It will force Wink to call a fair amount of blitzes and Rivers will take advantage.
-Lamar will make some costly mistakes with some ill-advised throws and hold onto the ball too long.
-Derwin James will be the one to put the nail in the coffin with a strip sack or interception to remind the Ravens we shouldn’t have passed on him. The only thing that could make it worse is if it was a pass intended for Hayden Hurst. I hope I’m wrong, but these are bold predictions after all. I think the odds are 50/50.
Chargers 24 Ravens 21
For the past two seasons, the Ravens have been backed into the corner of having control over their own destiny. This year is not different, as they face perhaps their most difficult challenge of the season. On paper, the Chargers might be the most talented and deep team in football. With a blend of youth and veterans alike, and this team has showed the NFL what can happen when they are healthy.
This game will ultimately come down to who can out-coach who. The Chargers are in a prime position to win out and take the number one seed in the AFC if they win out and KC loses. The question isn’t the talent, it’s can Anthony Lynn out-coach John Harbaugh? Talent aside, the Ravens have been a juggernaut running the ball, and that should terrify the NFL. We all know that Lamar is not refined as a passer, and this season, he may never be, but the Ravens are using him the way that he is meant to be used, creating a mismatch on both fronts. A lot of Ravens fans are seeing what Derwin James is doing in LA and wondering what could have been, but we need to let Hurst develop before we say we made the wrong choice.
– Lamar will have a tough day through the air, throwing for no more then 150 yards and 1 interception to Desmond King.
-The three-headed monster of Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, and Lamar Jackson will produce 210 rushing yards and 2 scores, but Lamar will fumble once.
-The defense will have their opportunities to confuse Rivers, forcing two turnovers (one fumble recovery and one interception), but overall he has a solid day. 300 yards and throwing two scores.
–Melvin Gordon will be unproductive in his return from injury, as will Keenan Allen. For the Chargers to win, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams will have to win their chances. This receiver corps is DEEP, and the Ravens might not have enough cover men to win the day.
-For the Ravens to win, they are going to have to get creative with their blitz packages like they did against the Titans. The interior offensive line for LA is very young and can get overwhelmed easily (look at what Chris Jones did last Thursday night). Mosley and Young will need to take their chances when able, and I expect our safeties to play close to the line as well to see if Rivers can make adjustments.
Overall, it will be another close game, and I expect Harbaugh to out-coach Lynn when it matters in the 4th quarter with excellent ball control, and trusting Lamar to bring it home.
Bal 20 LA 17
In Lamar Jackson’s first five starts, he has faced five of the bottom eight rush defenses in the NFL. That will change this week against a Chargers team that currently sits 9th in the NFL in rushing yards per game allowed.
There has been debate over whether this type of offense is sustainable in today’s NFL. I think we’ll get that answer this week. The Chargers should be able to limit Jackson more than any other team has which will force him to throw the ball more than the Ravens would like. And oh by the way, the Chargers also have the 8th ranked pass defense.
This is a bad spot for the Ravens to need a win, but that’s exactly what has transpired. I see a rough game for Jackson and the Chargers winning by a touchdown. I also wouldn’t be surprised here if we see Jackson limited to the point of #5 making an appearance at some point in this game.
LA covers the 4.5