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5 Final Thoughts: Bolts Embracing Big Challenge vs. Ravens

5T 11.24

The Chargers are 4-6 and are ready for a Sunday Night Football matchup with Baltimore.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 12:

1. Time to bounce back

The Chargers know where they stand ahead of Week 12.

The Bolts are 4-6 and have alternated pairs of wins and losses through 10 games. The Chargers started 0-2 but climbed to 2-2, and then dropped to 2-4 before surging to 4-4.

Now the ascent begins as the Bolts try to dig themselves out of another hole, with the first step coming Sunday night against Baltimore, which currently resides in the AFC's top seed.

A pair of Chargers captains spoke this week on the opportunity that lies ahead.

"You have to take it to another level … letting guys know what's at stake," Khalil Mack said.

Derwin James, Jr. added: "We get a challenge in front of the world. We're going to see what we can do."

The Chargers season to date has been highlighted by close games, as seven of their 10 games have been decided by seven points or less.

Five of the Bolts losses have come by three points or less, meaning the Chargers are focused on coming up big in crunch time.

"It's the energy of not wanting to mess up in the big moments against thriving in the big moments," Mack said. "That's something we have to get better at in this last stretch.

He later added: "It could be more excitement on the field … just letting it flow. Let the guys feel that. More so than saying, 'Hey, let's tighten up and make a play,' versus, 'Hey, this is what we do. Let's go out and ball.' Just letting it flow. That's my approach this week."

At 4-6, there is still a path to the playoffs for the Chargers in a muddled AFC race.

But getting there means stepping up in the bright lights, and perhaps finding a way to win close against an elite Ravens squad.

"We're awfully close. But that's the thing about the NFL, the margin of error is so small," said Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. "It's a really tough league, and if you're not at your best, it's really tough to win games like that.

"I know that we're close and that we're doing things the right way," Herbert added. "We just have to crank it up another notch."

2. Keep Lamar in check

It's no secret which player the Bolts defense is focused on the most heading into Week 12.

"Probably No. 8," Mack said. "He does a great job putting them in a great position all throughout the game. It's going to be a big task for us this week.

"Great challenge and I'm looking forward to it," Mack added.

No. 8, of course, is Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP who is playing at a similar level this season.

"Definitely a guy like that presents a challenge," James said. "He's an MVP-caliber player."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley added: "When you have Lamar at quarterback, it's as tough of a coverage as you're going to have in the league.

Jackson has thrown for 2,441 yards and is on pace to break his career-high mark in passing yards. He's also thrown for 12 scores, ran for five others and leads all quarterbacks with 535 rushing yards.

So, yeah, it's a tall task.

"He's the best scrambling quarterback in the world. He's Houdini back there," said Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley. "He has really good skill players around him. Their run game is a force, so that complements the pass game.

"They've added some tempo this year, which plays to his strengths, so he can either distribute the ball or get out of there if there are some cracks in your rush," Ansley continued. "He's a dynamic player.

"He is a guy that I defended when I was at Kentucky and he was at Louisville, and he's been the same player — very elusive, fast, stronger than you think," Ansley added. "We have to do a good job of filling up those rush lanes and keeping a roof over the coverage."

Mack added: "There's nobody as dynamic as far as his running ability."

It will take a team effort to slow down Jackson, something the Bolts have emphasized in practice this week.

"We've all got to rush together on the D-Line," Tuipulotu said. "We can't have one person rushing high, someone not covering this gap or something like that.

"We always say this, like four rushes one," Tuipulotu added. "That's how we're going to get to the quarterback, collapse the pocket and contain him."

Check out the best photos from the Chargers' Friday practice at Hoag Performance Center

3. Withstand the pressure

Baltimore's defense leads the league in sacks with 44.0 in all, five more than the next team on the list.

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore said this week that the Bolts offense is well-aware of that stat.

"They do a phenomenal job of really being connected," Moore said. "I think, their whole pass rush scheme, you can tell they're all connected. It's not all guys on their own projects. It's all married together.

"Guys are creating picks and rubs for the other guys. It's really well-orchestrated. You have to have an awareness to it," Moore added. "They're obviously one of the best in the league, if not the best. You have to be aware of it. They have a lot of success. We have to be smart in some situations. We'll see how it plays out."

Baltimore's success has been a team effort thus far, as 14 different players have gotten to the opposing quarterback this season.

Justin Madubuike leads the team with 9.5 sacks, followed by 6.5 from Jadeveon Clowney and 6.0 from Kyle Van Noy, who was on the Bolts last season.

"They have a lot of people who can rush the passer. They have interior pass rush. They have outside pass rush. They have DBs and linebackers who can blitz," Staley said.

He later added: "You have a group that is dangerous. They've had the lead a lot in games, which gives you a chance to rush a lot, and they're capitalizing on those opportunities."

Justin Herbert rushed for 73 yards last weekend against the Packers, the second-highest total of his career.

No. 10 could get on the move if Baltimore's pressure ramps up Sunday night, but the Bolts offensive line is set of preventing that from happening.

"They're a really well-coached team. They run a lot of stunts and twists, bring a lot of good pressures that are tough to pick up," said guard Jamaree Salyer. "We got to be on our A-game to be able to track stuff when it happens and keep [Herbert] clean."

4. Mack continues to shine

Mack is on the verge of some history.

The Chargers outside linebacker is currently tied for fifth in the NFL with 11.0 sacks and has a chance to equal or best his single-season mark of 15.0 that he set in 2015.

Mack's next sack, however, will be a big one as it means Mack will become just the second player to record at least 12.0 sacks in a season with three franchises since 1982. Mack would join a list that only features Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene.

"I had a healthy offseason, man. I was able to get in the gym and do what I normally do. That's a reflection of it, along with playing with my guys.

"You're either getting better or getting worse … I want to trend toward getting better," Mack added.

Mack will be in the spotlight for the next month as Joey Bosa is now on Injured Reserve with a foot sprain and must miss a minimum of four games.

Is Mack worried about getting double teamed?

"I've been doing this a long time," Mack said. "[Extra] attention, no attention … I'll do the best I can to help the team. It is what it is."

One thing for sure is that the 32-year-old will continue to bring the same mindset he has for over a decade in the league.

"He's the same guy every day, his approach," Ansley said. "He's rarely heard, but always seen. He does a really good job. in his own space, of taking the young guys under his wing — Tuli [Tuipulotu], Chris [Rumph II], and now Andrew Farmer [II] is getting an opportunity.

"He has that leadership quality that way. I think his approach every day has been solid," Ansley added. "He's not a rah, rah guy, but when he says some stuff, people listen, and we appreciate that about him."

Mack, who has 95.5 career sacks, is also the Chargers nominee for the 2023 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.

The award, created in 2014, is presented each year to an NFL player who demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship — including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.

Mack is also up for the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award, which was created to honor the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community.

5. Win on special teams

With the Bolts trying to get going for a playoff push, perhaps special teams can help swing things in the right direction.

That challenge comes against the Ravens, who historically have one of the league's top special teams units under Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, who was a special teams coordinator before landing that job.

And playing against Baltimore means facing kicker Justin Tucker, who is regarded as one of the best players ever at his position.

"He's a weapon for that team both as a kickoff specialist but also obviously in field goals," said Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken. "He has a career-long of 66 yards. That line is extended out there for where they need to get points on the board.

"He's done a great job with that, but we just have to make sure we're dialed in in terms of those units and how we can impact the game," Ficken added. "He's had great success. It's a testament to him."

Tucker has made 19 of 23 field goals this season, with all of his misses coming from 50-plus yards. He's also hit 33 of 34 extra points.

The Chargers will counter with kicker Cameron Dicker, a second-year player who is flourishing in powder blue.

Dicker has been true on 16 of 17 field goals this year and has made all 29 extra points.

Ficken said that Sunday's matchup is less about the kicker battle and more about which team can win overall on special teams.

"It's obviously a good matchup when people look at it in terms of kicker to kicker, but at the end of the day it's about out units," Ficken said. "t's about all the other 10 guys, giving him an opportunity to be successful with our operation, guys protecting kickoff in terms of the guys running down there.

"I know our guys are prepared and ready to go. Excited for the matchup for our unit against their unit. It'll be a good contest," Ficken added.

Entering Week 12, the Chargers rank fourth in special teams DVOA while Baltimore is 18th.

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