The Baltimore Ravens are running the ball at a historic pace.
Since Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, Baltimore has imposed their will on the ground time and time again, which is a main reason why they've gone 6-1 over that span.
They've run for an NFL high 1,607 rushing yards over the last seven weeks, good for a mind-boggling 229.6 yards per game. The next highest total belongs to the Seattle Seahawks rushing for the next-highest total (1,190). Baltimore enters the playoffs off a ridiculous outing in Week 17 in which they pounded 296 yards on the ground.
All eyes have been on Jackson, the 21-year-old rookie who is the preeminent dual-threat quarterback currently in the NFL. In addition to throwing for 1,201 yards, he's carried the ball 147 times for 695 yards (4.7 ypc) and five touchdowns. Since taking over as the starter, he ran for 556 yards, which is the seventh-most in the entire league.
Meanwhile, Gus Edwards took the league by storm after being elevated from the practice squad to the active roster midway through the season. The undrafted rookie caught fire toward the end of the season, posting the NFL's third-most rushing yards (654) over the final seven games.
The Bolts clearly have their hands full this Sunday.
"It's challenging because the running backs are very good, and anytime you have the quarterback with the ability to keep it, it creates an extra gap," Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley said. "So it's like, OK, what do we do? Take the middle third safety out of the hole? Take both safeties out of the hole? How do we combat this? That is the challenge with their offense, and what we've seen since we've played them the past two weeks or so, the number of quarterback runs has gone up. There were some things like that to the tailback, but the numbers that he's carrying the ball have jumped up. So, we anticipate a little bit more of that probably in the playoffs as well."
So, what's the plan to combat that punishing ground game?
Bradley gave some hints to what the Bolts' plans are…and it begins with staying disciplined in their rush lane.
"I think whenever you're facing a quarterback like this, that's a big emphasis in the room," he said.
That's something the Chargers must keep in mind whenever they blitz as Bradley noted the Ravens have a penchant for making teams pay when they bring an extra man.
"I think the threat of blitzing (can be dangerous) with a team like this because of the style of offense they have," he said. "Obviously there's times you've got to bring pressure to try and make some big plays, but you see it on tape where teams bring pressure and next thing you know, there's a long run. I think you've got to pick and choose your times. But you need to get pressure on them. Push the pocket because if (Jackson) can extend the play, or if he gets out of the pocket, when his yardage is up, that's a bad thing for us."
In addition, while the Chargers obviously want to make the tackle each time they lay the lumber, Bradley explained how it's equally important to simply slow down the ball carrier.
"I think there is such a thing as a good missed tackle, as long as you go fast with proper leverage," he said. "You know, sometimes there is a place for that rather than breaking down, sitting in a chair and letting them have a two-way go on you. So we try to play fast. We don't want missed tackles, but if they show up with the right leverage, it's more of that mindset with him that we have to play fast with them and try to eat up the grass."
It's a formula that was fairly successful the first go-around.
While it wasn't as good as Head Coach Anthony Lynn would've liked, the Chargers held the Ravens well below their average.
The Ravens totaled only 159 yards on the ground, which is well below their recent average. Still, it's a huge number nonetheless considering it would rank as the second-most in the NFL on a per-game basis behind only the Seattle Seahawks.
"Our defense held them under what their rush total was," Lynn said. "It still wasn't good enough, but we can improve on that this week"
The defense did do a strong job against Jackson in their first meeting. In fact, the speedy quarterback was limited to his lowest rushing total of the year (13 carries for 39 yards).
Unfortunately, Edwards busted out against the Bolts, toting the rock 14 times for 92 yards (6.6 ypc).
"I thought we did a pretty good job of containing (Jackson), but the other guy got loose at different times," the head coach said. "(Edwards) is a power runner, man. He's creating yards after contact. Very decisive hitting the hole. He's a very good football player."
Take a look through the top practice photos as the Bolts get ready for their Wild Card matchup in Baltimore.