1. You can’t coach height
The San Diego Chargers have been a measure of inconsistency on the offensive side of the football this season. There are times when they look like a top-flight offense — i.e. the first half against their defeat to the Denver Broncos. However, there also have been games where they’ve laid straight duds on the scoreboard — their 7-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the sheer size of this football team on the perimeter. The loss of Vincent Jackson has limited their down-field passing game somewhat, but the Chargers still have large receivers in Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd. Floyd torched the Ravens in the meeting last season — five catches, 96 yards and a score– yet hasn’t shown that he can be the go-to-guy in this offense. Alexander was cut by the St. Louis Rams earlier this season and has been a new-found glory for the Chargers as of late. The Ravens secondary played well last week against the smaller, speedy receivers of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we will see how defensive coordinator Dean Pees will use his defensive backs to combat the size of the Chargers. Press coverage is probably a no-no.
2. Can the Ravens establish a run game?
Last week against the Steelers, the Ravens couldn’t get anything going on offense. Ray Rice gained chunks of yards in spurts, but had more negative and minute gains. Bernard Pierce has found a way into the offensive game-plan as a solid spell for Rice, but is reduced to roughly five carries a game. The Chargers are coming into this game as the third best run defense, partially due to the addition of former Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. Johnson’s specialty was always setting the edge, preventing running backs to get off-tackle and onto the second level of the defense. The Ravens offensive line has also been a measure of inconsistency this season, especially on the road. With several players being plugged into the left guard spot, the team has yet to establish a consistent starting five that can rub off on one another. With Jah Reid finally getting his feet underneath him, his athletic ability in the pulling game could be what the Ravens need to try and stifle Johnson and the outside linebackers of the Chargers.
3. Joe Flacco
We say this each time the Ravens take the field on Sundays, or God forbid Thursday nights. Joe Flacco has simply been a completely different quarterback on the road throughout his stint as a Raven. This season, the offense has put up a putrid 16.6 points-per-game on the road. While 100 percent of the blame can’t be placed on Flacco, his main problem this season has been the way he is delivering the football. He has tended to lock onto receivers early in his progressions. He hasn’t checked off to Ray Rice as much as he has in recent years. When he misses receivers, each ball is floated well over their heads. While the players may say they aren’t thinking about last season’s debacle in San Diego, it has to be resonating in Flacco’s head that if he wants to earn himself a nice pay check this off-season, he will be out for redemption. The likelihood of that happening is still highly questionable, due to the road woes of the Ravens that have carried over from last season.
4. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
One of the elements that have been missing from this Ravens defense is the killer instinct the defenses in the past have had. With injuries galore across the board, the depth chart has tested. Plain and simple, the guys on defense haven’t had a tremendous nose for the football. Yes, Ed Reed has three interceptions and Cary Williams is tied for the AFC lead with four interceptions. However, this defense isn’t as opportunistic, nor are they as aggressive as they have been in the past. Corey Graham stepped up big time last week with a momentum-swinging interception of Byron Leftwich as the defense killed virtually any long drive the Steelers tried to finish. Luckily for the Ravens, they get Phillip Rivers this week, who has thrown 14 interceptions this season. His gun-slinging nature can help and hurt the Ravens at the same time. Look for the Ravens to use more zone coverage today to tackle the size of the Chargers offensive weapons, but the defenders will have to stay aggressive and cut off route-runners out of their breaks.
5. Where’s the rush?
Yet another broken record for the Ravens this season has been their lack of pass rush on the quarterback. Last week, the defense showed they can dominate a below average offensive line and get to the quarterback. Paul Kruger and James Ihedigbo stepped up and kept Byron Leftwich under duress several times throughout the game. Dannell Ellerbe also showed he could be a capable pass rusher on this defense. However, their interior pass rush was still virtually nonexistent and the same goes for the run game. The Achilles heel of the Chargers this season has been their depleted offensive line. Former Raven Jared Gaither has played well for the Chargers when he has gotten the chance, but he was just placed on injured reserve, caking on more problems for their group up front. Even though the defense has struggled mightily throughout the year, look for the outside pass rush, especially Kruger out of the wide nine stance, to get after Rivers and force him into poor decisions.
Chargers – 21
Ravens – 17
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