“When you play a team for the second time, you obviously want to be the team that beat them the first time,” Weddle said. “But, you know they’re going to come back with changes, with wrinkles, and they’re going to play that much harder, because they know what happened the first game. But, we understand that.”
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale acknowledged that it’s a difficult path to walk this week. Do you do the same stuff that worked so well the first time? Do you do more of it? Less of it?
“Whatever works, we’re going to keep calling it and hopefully we have the same success,” Martindale said. “But like I said the last time we played them: We’re going against a Hall of Fame quarterback. We know he’s going to make some adjustments as well.”
Having thrown six interceptions compared to three touchdowns over the last three games, Rivers is entering the playoffs following his worst stretch of the season. Applying pressure on the quarterback, as the Ravens did throughout their Week 16 win, is the defensive key to victory.
Baltimore finished the season with the top defense in yards allowed and No. 2 in points, which propelled the team to the AFC North crown—and they did it like nobody else in today’s NFL. They’ve done it with the Cover 3 zone blitz, a Ravens staple that has taken on new, outsized importance in 2018. While Baltimore has struggled to manufacture sacks with simple four-man rushes, and failed to generate many turnovers (ranking No. 22 in the league), they’ve limited nine of 16 opponents to fewer than 300 yards of offense and 20 points.
It’s what Martindale, his defensive staff, head coach John Harbaugh and Weddle set out to accomplish this offseason: Make the defense so simple and easy to communicate that they could call it on the fly, and, with numerous disguises, make it look complicated as hell.
“We took all the different terms and simplified it,” Martindale says. “Before it was like being in Spanish class, but for some reason there’s a chapter on Chinese and another chapter on French. All we did was put it all in English. We really rely on those veterans. It’s an elegant simplicity to us. We have pressure off of motion. Field and boundary.
“We’re a man team and we were able to learn how to play with our eyes in zone coverage,” cornerback Brandon Carr says. “We have enough guys on that side of the ball in each position group that we’ve all been through the fire. The game is about adjusting on the fly. If we see something we’ve got the tools to get the call out and execute.”
Baltimore employs schemes on both sides of the ball that are difficult to prepare for. Many teams, including wild card combatants Indianapolis and Houston, prefer vanilla defensive coverages while the Ravens have found success with variety and deception.
The 2018 NFL All-Rookie Team - Cam Mellor
Only eight rookie tight ends saw more than 20 targeted passes this season, yet that shouldn’t deter from the fact that Andrews led them all in yards (552), yards per catch (16.2), YAC (198) and first-down receptions (25).
Fellow Ravens rookie Orlando Brown Jr. was edged out at offensive tackle by Mike McGlinchey and Braden Smith. Baker Mayfield and Derwin James were selected as PFF’s offensive and defensive rookies of the year.
NFL Wild Card Weekend game picks: Bears slay reigning champs - Elliot Harrison
You must weigh the fact that the Chargers will be better prepared to deal with the unique challenges posed by Lamar Jackson and a ground game that hums like a locomotive. That means Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa will play their edge responsibilities conscientiously, lest Jackson go scampering outside while they go careening inside. The inside ‘backers must peel off blocks and wrap up Gus Edwards. That’s the issue when you play a quarterback like Jackson: There isn’t the advantage of using that extra player in the box to get to the RB because somebody has to be minding the store -- or, more specifically, hesitating enough to recognize whether Jackson leaves the ball in the running back’s belly or keeps it himself. Everyone’s seen the highlights, but have they seen Jackson’s production? He’s racked up 695 yards rushing despite starting just seven games. Another key thing to watch: If Chargers TE Hunter Henry does indeed play, how much can he contribute in his first meaningful action in a year? The guy is a red-zone force when healthy.
Harrison envisions a divisional round trip to New England for the Ravens.