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Ravens News 1/5: Keys to the game, Lamar’s playoff debut and more

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Baltimore Ravens v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

QBs Watson, Jackson and Trubisky are set to make playoff debuts on Wild Card Weekend - Daniel Rymer

Lamar Jackson has 120 rush attempts since taking over as the starter in Week 11, which is more than double the attempts of the next quarterback (Josh Allen, 52). Some of those attempts have come on scrambles, but almost half of them have come on Baltimore’s new bread and butter – the read option.

Jackson has carried the ball 59 times on option plays since Week 11; the next closest quarterback is Watson with only 15 attempts. On Jackson’s 59 option attempts since week 11, he has gained 322 yards (5.5 avg) and scored two touchdowns. Jackson’s blinding speed forces defenses to stay home in case he keeps on the option, which helps open up lanes for his running backs when he hands it off. Among running backs with at least 10 attempts on option plays since Week 11, the top two in yards per carry are the Ravens’ very own Kenneth Dixon (7.9) and Gus Edwards (6.4). With Jackson at the helm, Baltimore’s run-heavy offense is going to be a nightmare to stop in a league where everyone is building their teams to stop the pass.

Ronnie Stanley, Matt Skura, Orlando Brown Jr., Nick Boyle, Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon, Patrick Onwuasor and Marlon Humphrey are the other Ravens starters who will taste playoff football for the first time on Sunday.

The Keys to Every NFL Wild-Card Game - Danny Heifetz

Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens

Overworked Story Line: These teams played two weeks ago, but now the game is in Baltimore, so it’s different.

Key(s) to the Game: Rushing

These teams met just two weeks ago, and the Ravens defense shut down the Chargers. In that game, Baltimore held Los Angeles to season-lows in points (10), passing yards (147), and total yards (198). For the Chargers to win, their offensive line needs to block interior pressure and slanting defenders. These areas gave them trouble against Baltimore in Week 16 when the Ravens put more pressure on Rivers than he faced in any other game this season (44 percent of his dropbacks). The pressure frequently created either sacks or penalties, often leading to difficult third downs. The Chargers faced third-and-10 or longer eight times on 12 drives against Baltimore. L.A. must get more manageable third downs (or avoid them altogether!) to move the ball on the Ravens, and that starts with guards Michael Schofield and Dan Feeney doing better the second time around. The Chargers also take their time at the line, using the most seconds per play in the league this season. Speeding up might throw the Ravens defense off its game.

With Joe Flacco at the helm, the Ravens rushing attack was 31st in yards per attempt. But since Jackson took over in Week 11, the Ravens have had the best rushing game in the league, if not one of the best in recent years. The Ravens have rushed for more than 200 yards five times since Week 11. No other team has done so more than twice in that span, and 20 teams have not done it all. A dozen teams have not rushed for more than 200 yards this entire season. They are gaining 5.1 yards per attempt on an average of 45 rushes per game. (FORTY-FIVE!) Despite that volume, they haven’t hit the wall of diminishing returns. The Ravens are one of six teams averaging above five rushing yards per attempt since Week 11, despite rushing 28.5 percent more than the second-place team. They have run the ball with between 3 and 6 yards to go on third down 20 times since Jackson took over, when 30 other teams in the league haven’t done it 10 times. In a season defined by the league zigging toward passing, Baltimore is zagging about as hard as possible, and it’s a serious wrench for defenses that have hired, trained, and coached defenders to survive in a passing-oriented league, including the Chargers.

Baltimore finished the regular season ranked first in time of possession (32:54) while the Chargers were 13th best (30:43).

Keys to the Game: Chargers vs. Ravens - Ricky Henne

Keep Philip Standing – In order to move those chains, the Chargers must do a better job of keeping their future Hall of Fame quarterback upright. The Ravens sacked Rivers four times in their first meeting and pressured him countless other times, resulting in his worst game of the season. It marked the only game he failed to throw a touchdown pass and tossed two interceptions as he posted a season-low 51.7 passer rating. As a result, the Chargers mustered only 10 points, marking the only time all year the team failed to score at least 20. Thus, Lynn knows they must protect Rivers from Baltimore’s blitz-heavy attack:

“They like to attack, but you have to make them pay. We didn’t do that the first time. If we can get that done this time, we’ll be good…. They’ve been blitzing all year. They blitz more than anybody in the National Football League, so we know where they’re blitzing from and what they’re doing, but you have to stand in front of them and block them. You have to win your one-on-ones and give us time to throw the ball down the field, give Melvin (Gordon) time to get on the safeties. We have to be better at those things this week.”

Terrell Suggs versus right tackle Sam Tevi and Za’Darius Smith versus left guard Dan Feeney are matchups that favor the Ravens.

Chargers-Ravens: AFC Wild Card Weekend preview - Kevin Patra

Matchup to Watch

Philip Rivers vs. Ravens’ No. 1 ranked D: Rivers had his worst night of the season in the previous meeting, earning season-lows in yards per attempt (4.9), passer rating (51.7) and the only game without a TD pass on the year. After an MVP-caliber start to his season, Rivers has fluttered the past several weeks, throwing six interceptions in his past three games (6 INTs in first 13 games). The Ravens defense has given up a few big days this season -- including to 376 passing yards Baker Mayfield last week -- so it’s not an impenetrable force. The fun matchup will be Rivers again matching wits against former teammate, Ravens safety Eric Weddle. Martindale knows the matchup up will be key.

The question will be whether Rivers can hit enough shots to loosen up the Ravens. Lost in the dismal Week 16 output were several big plays wiped out by penalty -- including 27- and 28-yard passes on back-to-back plays early in the close contest. If the Chargers can get an early lead, they’ll put pressure on Jackson to throw the ball.

The other aspect of Rivers dual with the Ravens secondary is the deployment of Keenan Allen. The Pro Bowler aligned in the slot (340) and out wide (351) on an almost equal number of snaps in 2018, but was targeted by Rivers at an extremely high rate when aligned wide (35.7 target rate out wide versus 24.1 in slot). The Ravens defense is the only team in the NFL to allow a completion percentage under 50.0 to players aligned wide. Getting Allen loose against a Baltimore D that is the only team in the NFL to allow completion percentage under 60 overall (58.4) will challenging.

In Week 16, Baltimore played a relatively clean game with four penalties for 40 yards compared to Los Angeles’ eight for 69.