In a Week 16 rematch, the Los Angeles Chargers come to Baltimore to face the AFC North champion Ravens. Can the Ravens advance to the divisional round? RSR Staff give our predictions here…
A couple of weeks ago, so much attention was placed on how Lamar Jackson would fare against a competitive Chargers defense. Yet all along I felt that the game would be won or lost based upon how the Ravens defended Philip Rivers. The Ravens won that battle, and consequently the game. This week will be no different.
The Ravens pressured Rivers regularly, thanks to some picks set inside the tackles creating lanes for free blitzers through the A-gap. Most expect the Chargers to be better prepared for that this time around and while that may be true, they still need to execute. But such thoughts dismiss countermoves from Wink Martindale. The Ravens won’t hit Rivers as often but they’ll do so enough to influence the sidewinder to get the ball out quickly.
On offense the Ravens had some chunk plays both running and passing in part because the dime base defense that the Chargers employ, attacked running lanes with their speed. It opened up some play action opportunities and when the Bolts misfired on run blitzes, daylight opened for Gus Edwards. Expect more of the same.
So how will this Wild Card game go down?
— The Chargers offense is in a bit of a funk lately as is Rivers who has thrown an interception on his team’s opening possession for three straight games. And after throwing just six interceptions in his first 14 games, Rivers has six in his past three. Move that total to eight in four games.
— The last time the two teams faced, the Ravens’ advantage in time of possession was less than 3 minutes with the Ravens running 60 plays to the Chargers 57. Look for the Ravens to tilt those advantages to 7 minutes in T.O.P. and they’ll run 12 more plays than the second-fiddle team from LA.
— Despite taking only 3 more offensive snaps than the Chargers on December 22, the Ravens racked up 163 more yards than the Chargers. The pressure on Rivers limited the explosive play opportunities. That won’t change much so look for Rivers to lean on his running backs for safe throws and Keenan Allen on crossers.
— Allen will have some success and he’ll notch a score. Also expect Rivers to test the seams in the Ravens defense with Mike Williams off shorter drops. They’ll connect for a 40+ yard score.
— Rivers will also beg for a roughing call to keep a drive alive and ref Clete Blakeman will deliver.
— But the fun stops there for the Chargers. The cleat of reality will kick in.
— Lamar Jackson will out-throw Rivers, 240 yards to 225 and he’ll rush for more yards than Melvin Gordon, 65 to 55. Jackson will be responsible for 3 TD’s, one set up by Terrell Suggs who will pick off a bubble screen and return it deep into Chargers territory.
— Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon will combine for 140 yards rushing.
— Ravens outgain the Chargers 445 to 325
Ravens 27 Chargers 21
This is a game where the Chargers season stats against the run overstate the team’s current ability. I expect the Ravens will try to mix in some new pass plays, but to shorten the game and maintain a rested defense, we’ll see lots of run plays.
To summarize the Ravens Run/Chargers Run Defense matchup:
— When healthy, the Chargers rely on speed over size.
— Brown (4th) is the only player in the top 7 tacklers for the Chargers who is not a defensive back.
— The Chargers are perhaps the NFL’s most dime-heavy team (100% vs KC, 81% vs the Ravens, and 62% vs the Broncos) that compares to the Ravens who played just under 29% dime.
This is a game which screams out for the Ravens’ “Run and Possess” formula. The Ravens run game should add a new concept, because they have every week. I do expect to see a few more pass plays as well, because they’ll be well set up. However, being determined to pass would be a very bad choice against a team that plays dime on the bulk of 1st downs. I expect the Ravens will continue to run and both the timing and location of the game point to the possibility for results better than 2 weeks ago (35/159, 4.5YPC).
On defense, the Ravens need to continue to harass Rivers and deny him a clean pocket. The Chargers offensive line is arguably the worst of any playoff team despite their record. Rivers will be held to one of his worst 3 games of the season, and that won’t be nearly enough to keep up with the Ravens, who finally pull away from an opponent decisively:
Ravens 30, Chargers 13
The Chargers have been road warriors this season, going 7-1 and winning in places like Seattle and Kansas City (on short rest). Baltimore will be raucous on Sunday, but the Bolts won’t be intimidated. Melvin Gordon says that they play better on the road because they don’t have “real” home games, playing in a soccer stadium in Carson, California. That’s a hell of a mentality to have, and if I was a Chargers fan, I’d be damn proud.
Fortunately for me 1) I’m not; and 2) while the Chargers may not be intimidated, they’ll still be outmuscled again. It’s not like they suddenly got more physical in three weeks. The Ravens manhandled them in Week 16, and it only wasn’t a blowout because of some red zone failures and a Kenneth Dixon fumble.
— Harbs/Rosburg getting cute on kickoffs (as opposed to just having Tuck boot the damn thing through the end zone) costs them, as L.A. has a kickoff return of 40+ yards.
— Jackson throws for 125 yards in the first half as he and Marty catch the Bolts completely off-guard (and Ravens receivers actually catch the ball), but only 65 in the second, as the Ravens milk the clock down the stretch.
— Jackson, Dixon, and Gus Edwards combine for 215 yards on the ground.
— Rivers is sacked three times, and throws two touchdowns…and two interceptions.
— The Ravens take a 17-7 lead into the locker room. Things close to 17-14 in the third, but Lamar responds as he’s done for the last few months, leading a touchdown drive that culminates in a 30-yard scamper by number 8.
— A late Chargers TD makes it close, but the Ravens recover the onside kick with under 30 seconds to play.
Ravens 27 Chargers 21
It seems like every time Baltimore is in the playoffs, we are the team that the media says “no one wants to play.” Some of these “analysts” must still be high off the Ravens winning in LA two weeks ago, as well as a close victory against Cleveland last Sunday. The interesting thing about this matchup is the fact that the two top defenses in the AFC playoff picture are playing against one another in the same game.
This matchup makes me feel uneasy. It is the second time Baltimore has played the Chargers, and it wont be like the first time. I think LA will better understand how to contain Jackson this time around. I foresee them barely using any sort of linebacker corps, and most likely keeping their deep safeties on the field at all times. This limits their matchups on the Ravens’ TE depth, but gives them a better matchup when containing Lamar, and forcing him to beat them via his arm. If Lamar struggles with his reads, or Lamar is unable to move the chains with his legs on third down situations, it will be a long day for the Ravens offense.
LA will probably realize once again it will be difficult to run the ball early on. This offense is predicated by creating a tempo early on with Melvin Gordon, and moving the chains with Austin Ekeler and their deep stable of WRs. To really beat the Ravens defense, they will need to create mismatches (by say, moving Keenan Allen and/or Tyrell Williams) at the second level, which has been an Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent defense. Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin have their limitations, and I think they can be pushed around so that’s why those guys don’t strike fear in me.
The winner of this game is the one who puts the most pressure on the other team’s QB. The Chargers offensive line has been bad for what seems like forever now. Martindale will once again have to create an excellent game plan, because I am not sure if this team is meant to go far by the hands of the offense. This matchup still scares me.
Chargers 24 Ravens 20
The NFL did the Ravens a favor by having the Chargers fly cross country for a 1 pm game (10 am their time). But one of the hardest things to do in the NFL is beat a good team twice in a season, let alone, twice in three weeks. Which is why I am pretty nervous about the game.
What really worries me is that when the teams met in Carson on December 22, the Ravens did a great job of holding Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen in check and shutting down Melvin Gordon on the ground. Yet, the Ravens were only up by 6 late in the 4th quarter and the Chargers were driving before a fumble recovery for a touchdown sealed the game.
Rivers is a smart, veteran QB who without a doubt will re-watch that game 10 times or more before Sunday to find ways to outsmart Wink and the defense.
But this game will really come down to Gus Bradley vs Marty Mornhinweg and that REALLY scares me. Bradley is an underrated DC, whose defensive unit only had one bad play (Lamar to Andrews for a TD!) the last time they met. Having played them already this RPO-centric offense won’t catch them off guard like it has other teams.
That means Marty will have to add some wrinkles to the plays, change cadences, formations, etc. to try and outsmart Bradley, and I don’t know if he can. And that is really what this game comes down to, not tipping your hand pre-snap or coming out with the same play calls as you did just three weeks ago. He needs to change the game plan up some, yet be effective. Call me negative, but this will be the biggest challenge Lamar and the offense have faced since LJ took over.
With all that being said, I do have faith in this defense and special teams unit, to keep them in the game and bring home a victory. I trust the Ravens defense to make one more play then the Chargers.
Justin Tucker hits a 45-yard field goal with under a minute to go to win the game.
Ravens 13 Chargers 10
Keeping it simple…
Ravens 23 Chargers 16
Call me a naysayer, but I don’t have the greatest feeling about this Wild Card matchup. For the second time in three weeks, the Ravens will be facing off against the Chargers. Last time, in LA, it was a nail-biter until Tavon Young sealed the deal with a fumble recovery that he returned for a score. That being said, the Ravens held the high-octane Chargers to season lows in almost every category.
This time around, I expect more charge from the Chargers. Postseason football on the East Coast requires a strong run game, and with Philip Rivers struggling over the past few weeks, it seems like a good time to dial up some plays for Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. The Ravens will need stronger games from Young and Marlon Humphrey than we saw last week, and Jimmy Smith needs to keep the same energy he had against the Browns, or Rivers will take chunks down the seam, which the Browns had exposed as a problem area in the secondary.
Now, my negative feelings aside, I still think the Ravens scrape by, making Lamar Jackson the youngest QB to ever win a postseason game. The Chargers have a bad interior offensive line, so I expect a handful of sacks, and a turnover, coupled with the Ravens’ dominant running game, to carry the load. The Ravens move onto the Divisional Round.
Ravens 23 Chargers 17
Offensive MVP of the game: Mark Andrews. He scores late to take the lead.
Defensive MVP of the game: Marlon Humphrey. He allows just one catch, for a short gain, but has at least one PBU, and a near-interception.
Coaching MVP of the game: Greg Roman.
The Ravens have to come out swinging in this game. Come out and establish your rushing domination and don’t get too damn cute with it. Let your workhorses in Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon wear out the Chargers defense.
I think Lamar Jackson has a HUGE game. Once the Chargers are softened up a bit from the backs, LJ brakes a 75-yard TD run in the middle of the fourth quarter to take a ten-point lead (his second long rushing TD of the game). He also throws a TD to Michael Crabtree.
Defensively, the Ravens sack Phillip Rivers a handful of times, intercept him twice (Weddle and Tavon Young), and the Ravens hold on to win.
Lamar Jackson becomes the youngest QB to win a playoff game.
The Texans also win at home, and the Ravens head back to Arrowhead.
Ravens 27 Chargers 20
— This is a rematch from Week 16. The Chargers might hold a slight advantage because they will see Lamar Jackson for the second time. The Ravens won’t need to make many adjustments from that prior game because Los Angeles runs a traditional offense. Baltimore just needs to make plays again.
— Los Angeles is one of the league’s top road teams, going 7-1. The Chargers also went 3-1 against the AFC North with wins at Pittsburgh and Cleveland. So, Los Angeles won’t be intimidated about the cross-country flight into Baltimore. M&T Bank Stadium will need to be loud to help the Ravens take advantage of the home game.
— This is the biggest game Lamar Jackson has ever played. However, he didn’t appear the least bit intimidated this week and was looking forward to the challenge. Jackson is going to have to make throws because the Chargers are going to stock the box to shut down the Ravens run game.
— The Chargers are making only their second playoff appearance in the past nine years and first since 2013. Quarterback Philip Rivers knows this might be his last chance to win a Super Bowl. So, there is a sense of urgency surrounding that team. Los Angeles has playmakers on both sides of the ball and that could be the difference in this game.
Chargers 24 Ravens 19
It won’t be an easy task to beat a 12-win team twice in three weeks. Also, a team that is 7-1 on the road this year with wins in Arrowhead, Seattle, and Pittsburgh. The Chargers are the only team that’s had the luxury of facing Lamar so they won’t be surprised by his incredible speed and elusiveness. If it makes any difference at all remains to be seen.
The Ravens offense will surely have some new wrinkles to give the Chargers more problems. The Browns demonstrated last week in the fourth quarter that the run game can be slowed down. The Chargers will follow suit schematically and see if they can do the same. I think it’s probably a good thing that it happened last week so now the Ravens can prepare themselves for the adjustments that they need to make. Chargers speedy linebacker Jatavis Brown will be out this game which should be huge for the Ravens.
Philip Rivers has thrown an interception in his opening drive the last 3 games as well as 6 total interceptions. That won’t stop him from trying to take shots down the field early to try to gain an early lead. The Browns also demonstrated last week some holes in the Ravens defense when they ran four verticals to expose the lack of speed of the safeties. However, the Chargers do not offer the speed the Browns have in their receivers. The Ravens defense will once again be aggressive and get to Rivers often.
— The Ravens end up with 5 total sacks along with a few more hits and hurries.
— Rivers will throw for 2 more interceptions with Jimmy Smith getting one of them.
— Hayden Hurst will score his first touchdown since Carolina.
— Lamar Jackson will run for 2 touchdowns.
— Lamar will cough up another fumble.
— Mark Andrews won’t score but will have multiple big plays.
Ravens 27 Chargers 24
There is a lot of intrigue with this matchup. In boxing, the old saying is that styles make fights. The Ravens’ “style” of play really counters LA well. The Chargers are a fast and talented defense that can get after the QB. However, getting after Lamar Jackson is a different story. He’s elusive and will escape pressure. On the other side of the ball, the Baltimore defense is facing a QB in Rivers who does most of his damage when he can climb the pocket. He’s not someone who can throw off schedule from different platforms, which is what he had to do in the last game.
There’s no doubt that the Chargers will make adjustments. One of the first I can think of is a quicker passing attack to get the ball out of Rivers’ hands. Perhaps they’ll use more empty and spread sets along with a hurry-up pace. Wink needs to be prepared, especially based on how Baker Mayfield was able get rid of the ball quicker last week.
Still, I see the home field advantage being a big deal in this game. I also don’t see enough reliable inside weapons for Rivers to turn to against the Ravens’ blitz. David Njoku hurt the Ravens last week because he’s basically a hybrid TE who runs like a receiver. If Hunter Henry were fully healthy for LA (he is said to be on a “snap count” of 15-20), I’d be more concerned, but I think the secondary continues to make just enough stops to keep the Chargers’ pass game in check.
Last point about this game — the matchup reminds me a lot of the 2008 divisional game against the Titans. Frankly, this entire 2018 run reminds me of 2008 all over again. This 2018 Ravens defense is already built in a similar way. The Titans were able to exploit some 1-on-1 matchups in that contest. However, the 2008 Ravens were able to force enough turnovers to get the job done, and I could see the same thing happening on Sunday.