I sit down with John Gennaro from SB Nation's own Bolts From The Blue site to talk about the Chargers and Ravens. Both teams are currently at 7-4 and have had their moments of dominance and their moments of laying down, making this a rather confusing type of matchup. We discuss injuries, tendencies and exactly what we expect to go down in this week's game.
Q1: Health seems to be an issue for the Chargers. The interior line lost Rich Ohrnberger for the year due to back surgery to add to Nick Hardwick and Doug Legursky going down earlier in the year. How will the Chargers try and stop a Ravens pass rush that is ranked 8th in the league with 29 sacks on the year?
A: Well, they've done a mostly terrible job of slowing down any decent pass rush this year. The way they dealt with it last season was with a strong gameplan. 7-step dropbacks were eliminated, and every pass was out early. That allowed the offensive line to focus on run-blocking, which they did well, which also ended up slowing down the pass rush a little bit. It looked like, after nearly getting Philip Rivers killed (he has some sort of rib injury as a result of the beating he's taken), the team finally adopted that strategy again against the Rams last week. The ground game was strong, the ball was consistently getting out quickly, and the terrifying Rams' pass-rush was only getting to Rivers on coverage sacks.
Q2: Speaking of injuries, Ryan Matthews has had nagging injuries that have hurt his potential again this year. Branden Oliver is second on the depth chart but has more yards due to just being healthier. Is Matthews actually the lead back coming into this matchup or will the Ravens be better off studying the tendencies of Oliver and matching up against him?
A: There's some debate on just how injured Ryan Mathews had been. He had a fairly vague injury early on in the season and the team seemed in no rush at all to bring him back quickly. It looked like they were specifically saving him to be worked hard in the final 1.5 months of the season since he ran out of steam at the end of last year. Since returning from injury, Mathews hasn't exactly been worked hard, but he is without a doubt the starting RB. He got twice as many carries as Oliver last week and I think the team would really like that 12/6 split jump up to 20/5 against the Ravens, especially if Mathews keeps up with his 8.4 yards per carry average that he has this year.
Q3: The Chargers are sitting at 7-4 like the Ravens. However, looking through the wins and losses, the Chargers have some weird question marks like barely squeaking by the Raiders and Rams and losing big to Miami. Much like the Ravens, it seems like San Diego can be a little bi-polar at times. Is that fair to say about the Chargers and why has that been the case in 2014?
A: Well, it's really the case every year (and, yes, it's fair). The Chargers tend to lose games you think they're going to win and win games you think they're going to lose. The close wins against the Raiders is an every-year thing that we chalk up to "division rivals!" The Raiders play their best two games of the season against the Chargers, every year. The Rams are not to be underestimated. The Chargers beat them one week after they blew out "the best team in the NFL" Denver Broncos. They're a QB away from being scary good. The Dolphins game was the culmination of injuries for the Chargers. Half of the offensive line was out. Half of the defense was hurt. Mathews was still out. Rivers may or may not have been hurt. They fielded probably less than half of their Week 1 starters, on the road, and took some risks to try to get back in it...and they didn't work out. Luckily, the bye week was the next week and they're significantly healthier now.
Q4: The Chargers have been talked about this season mostly for the play of Phillip Rivers and for that defense. Looking at the stats, the Chargers don't seem to do well pressuring quarterbacks as they rank 29th in the league in total sacks and they don't have many takeaways as they rank 27th in interceptions. While the Chargers rank in the middle of the pack against the run in yards allowed per game, it seems that the main focus of the defense has been in the passing game as the Chargers are 6th in total passing yards allowed per game. How should the Ravens attack this defense and do you think that if given time, quarterback Joe Flacco can get in a rhythm passing the ball?
A: Any NFL QB, if given time, can get in a rhythm passing the ball. Kyle Orton can. Tim Tebow probably could. Jay Cutler can! So, "duh" on that one. The Chargers defense, like everything else, has been dictated by health. The pass rush is significantly better when Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu are healthy, which they hadn't been for most of the season but they are now. The turnovers are somewhat dependent on that, but losing rookie CB Jason Verrett for the year will hurt the team's chances to get picks. The strategy that has been employed, mostly successfully, is throwing at CB Shareece Wright and SS Marcus Gilchrist. They're not terrible as much as they're incredibly inconsistent, but they are far better options than throwing at CB Brandon Flowers or FS Eric Weddle. The Chargers have, historically, struggled to slow down Kubiak's running attack. First thing to do is try it out for a while and see if it has the same success it always does. If so, you can probably tie Flacco's right arm behind his back and win the game. In fact, that would be a pretty decent plan.
Q5: What is your prediction for the game?
A: I think the Chargers are going to get beat up by a much better team, which means that I fully expect them to come out looking the best they have all season to soundly defeat the Ravens. That's just how this team works.