In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, Michael Peterson and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
1. Think it’s obvious where we must begin our discussion: Justin Herbert. I believe many saw him as the “real deal” last season but his on-field ability appears to have even surpassed the highest projections. What are some of the reasons Herbert is thriving and competing for League MVP?
When Herbert was succeeding last year, I truly feel that was in spite of the coaching staff. Their run-first approach was a visible burden to the young quarterback who has always thrived at orchestrating an up-tempo offense in which he was given the freedom to sling it. That’s exactly what’s happening this year under Brandon Staley. In one of his first meetings with his new team, Staley made a point to emphasize how much they were going to throw the ball down the field. Now, he used a few more expletives to get his point across, but you get it. Overall, the new coaching staff was built to work synergistically with their new quarterback. They weren’t going to simply find and build an offense that suited him, they literally made him into the offense. So far, I’d say the returns have been pretty good.
2. The Chargers success hasn’t all been on Herbert. Many are praising Head Coach Brandon Staley. What is different under Staley and can you give an example or two regarding his coaching impact on the team?
The biggest difference between the old coaching staff and this one is the commitment to modernizing and bringing the franchise into the 21st century. Staley has done that by doing things such as hiring more staff that focuses on analytics and doing away with the traditional “strength and conditioning coach” to make way for an actual Director of Sports Science. There’s just a better commitment to finding an edge in all areas as opposed to just doing things how they’ve always been done.
Two major changes that I’ve seen stemming from Staley’s coaching is the communication on defense (something that was evident with the Rams in 2020) and his aggressiveness on fourth downs. Both of these have melded seamlessly together in a way that has allowed the Chargers to close out games they could have never dreamed of winning over the past few seasons.
3. Where do you see the Ravens attacking the Chargers defense? Where might they find success?
I don’t see how the Ravens aren’t zeroed in on the interior of the defensive line. It’s the weakest unit on the Chargers defense by far. If you look at their games against the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Browns, all three teams saw major success when running up the middle. The Ravens would be smart to do the same thing. Right now, that three group of interior linemen include an elder Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery, and a journeyman in Christian Covington. They’ve been much better in passing situations but stopping the run has been a futile task thus far.
4. Give us two players (one offense, one defense) Ravens fans should be concerned about as the “X-factors” of making this game go in the Chargers favor?
I don’t know how you don’t pick Justin Herbert for the offense. As I mentioned earlier, this team goes the way he does. The only game the Chargers have lost this year is the only one in which he threw multiple interceptions. If Herbert has an off day, the entire team will be off. As for the defense, I have to point at linebacker Kyzir White. With injuries to Kenneth Murray and Drue Tranquill, he’s the only linebacker with any starting experience available for the Chargers. If he has a bad game defending the run or in coverage against the likes of Mark Andrews, it could go a long way in the Raven’s favor.
5. What are your expectations for the game? How do you see this one playing out?
I think this game could look fairly similar to last Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Browns. I think the Baltimore run game will cause the Bolts some fits early and often. Herbert and the offense will keep them in this game but I think the Chargers’ magic on money downs is likely due for a dip in efficiency. I hate to say it, but I think the Ravens win a close one in their home stadium 27-24.