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Is There Any Reason To Believe That Ravens-Chargers Will Be Any Different Than Two Weeks Ago?

lamar chargers

Two weeks ago, these two teams met in Los Angeles in what was a massive game for the Ravens’ playoff hopes. They essentially needed to win both of their final two games and hope that the Steelers went 1-1. Meanwhile, the Chargers were coming off a huge road victory on TNF against the Chiefs that had the nation crowning them as the hottest team in football. That narrative shifted quickly.

From the very first play the Ravens absolutely dominated the game, kicking things off with a sideline pick by Brandon Carr. From there, it was a healthy dose of zone reads from Lamar and Gus Edwards and a suffocating defense that lead to a 22-10 victory. But that score wasn’t quite as indicative of how dominating that performance was. At no point were the Chargers really able to move the football consistently on a sustained drive. Their lone touchdown was scored only after Gus fumbled inside the Ravens’ own 20 to begin the 2nd half. The Ravens left a ton of points on the board with a failed 4th down at the 1, 3 FG’s, and 2 rare missed field goals by Justin Tucker. That was a game that easily could have been a 3 touchdown win or more. So with this game now being in Baltimore as opposed to LA, why would it be any different?

I’ll cut to the chase. I don’t expect it to be. But these are the two biggest factors at hand that could change.

1. Can the Chargers take what they learned about the Lamar Jackson offense in the first matchup and apply it?

This is the big question mark everyone is asking this week. Lamar hasn’t faced a team twice yet. Coupled with that is the notion that the league always catches up to offenses featuring a run-first QB. Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick are always the two QB’s cited as examples where this type of offense was not sustainable. What’s interesting is that RGIII and Greg Roman (the OC during Kaepernick era) are both in the QB room. You could hardly find two people with better intel on where those offenses eventually failed and why. So as we’ve watched this offense develop and more and more teams get tape on what the Ravens are doing, Marty Mornhinweg have been equipped to stay ahead of that curve and add new wrinkles to the offense every week.

There’s nearly half a season’s worth of NFL tape on Lamar at this point. On top of that, the offense they’re running is basically identical to the offense that Lamar ran at Louisville, so there’s more tape that’s probably worth watching. What I’m trying to say is that what the Ravens are doing is hardly a secret at this point, and they continue to be effective every week. The fact of the matter is that what they’re running is schematically sound. It’s no gimmick. The holes that are being created by the zone-read have been massive and have shown no signs of tightening. On top of that, Lamar is a better runner than RGIII and Kaepernick, both laterally and straight line. It’s a better version than the offenses that “failed” aka suffered from injury and organizational dysfunction.

So yes, while the Chargers will be a bit more prepared for the Lamar Jackson offense having seen it once before, we’re also looking at QB who is learning and learning quickly. The offensive minds on the Ravens side are in fantastic position to mitigate what the Chargers have learned.

2. Can the Ravens’ interior pass rush disrupt Phil Rivers as much as they did in Week 16?

The Ravens are capable of dominating defensively in a lot of different ways. They have a deep and talented secondary, they stuff the run, they get after the quarterback. I wouldn’t say that they’re the best in the league at any of these things, but collectively they’re extremely versatile and can tailor a game plan in a lot of different ways. In Week 16, they set their focus on bringing the heat on Phil Rivers up the middle of the field.

Phil is very good and has been throughout his career at feeling pressure around the edge and stepping up in the pocket. Rarely do you see him flush out of the pocket and make plays laterally on the run. He’s great at getting rid of the ball quick and hitting the routes underneath. So what Wink Martindale concocted was a game plan focused on creating pressure up the middle and taking away Phil’s space in front of him, and that’s exactly what they did. It largely took away Phil’s ability to throw anything deep downfield. We trusted our short-term coverage and sure tackling to do the rest, and that’s exactly what they did.

So what can the Chargers do to change it this time around? The answer is not much. Usually you can try to address elite edge rushers by shading protections and putting running backs into pass protection. But when guys like Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams are getting off the ball quickly and muscling the center and guards right into Phil’s kitchen, there’s not a lot that can be done to stop it. That’s just bully ball. A QB who relies so heavily on that space in front of them to step and throw will always have a long day when that’s the case. So the key for the Ravens is to send linebackers up the middle and bring the heat on Phil yet again. If that pressure is brought anything like it was two weeks ago, the Ravens will feast.

Everyone knows the NFL is an any given Sunday league. Wild things can happen. The Chargers are extremely talented on both sides of the ball and nothing would surprise me. But if the Ravens stick to what worked in LA and take care of the football, they should take care of business at home. Which would mean New England next week. Need that game like I need to breathe. Way too hyped at what’s on the horizon here in Baltimore, belee dat.