1. Conquer the Ravens Next – The Bolts have been road warriors all year long, going 8-1 in games away from ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center). They've played in some of the most raucous environments in all of sports including Seattle, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and have come out on top. Well, they may be in for their toughest test yet when they invade M&T Bank Stadium on Wild Card Weekend. There's simply nothing quite like a playoff atmosphere, which will make it even harder than usual to leave the Charm City with a win. And it was plenty hard already. Dating back to 2008 when John Harbaugh was named head coach, the Ravens own the NFL's second-best home winning percentage, going 65-23. Philip Rivers knows a thing or two about playing in tough environments, and he stressed how Sunday will be as tough as it gets:
"It will be a heck of a challenge heading into Baltimore. It's been a few years since we've been there. It's a tough place to play and it's a tough opponent that we saw just ten days ago or so. It will be a heck of a test for us.… We've handled (this type of) environment well (all season long) from a noise standpoint — from the travel and the whole deal with Saturday walkthroughs. We kind of handled all that well. So we need to handle it well again this week."
Head Coach Anthony Lynn agrees, emphasizing how much the Bolts enjoy playing in those types of adverse atmospheres:
"It's a hostile environment. They have a great fan base and they're loud. I've played in the playoffs there before. It's pretty cool. I think the guys are going to enjoy it. It will be fun."
2. Move the Chains – This may sound simple, but the Chargers must take advantage each time they get the ball. That doesn't always mean scoring points, but they simply can't go three-and-out. Facing a run-heavy Baltimore team that dominated time of possession unlike any other team in the league this year, Rivers and company must methodically move the ball down field. If a deep shot presents itself, of course take it. But the Bolts know they must do more with their possessions than they did in the last meeting. That won't be easy considering the Ravens boast the NFL's top-ranked defense. So, the Chargers must take it one snap at a time on offense, with Philip Rivers best outlining the team's approach compared to how they executed in their first meeting:
"(We) just (have to be) better on third downs, which means better on first and second down. They really had us behind. We had three conversions that we had called back. Just overall, we were just not in a groove. Again, credit to them for causing on that. Like I said I think on Sunday, it's kind of a ten-day, 13-day halftime kind of for adjustments and counter moves that both teams make. Knowing this defense, it could be something totally different than we've ever seen. We'll want to adjust on that, but certainly we have to prepare and counter what they did well to us and what we can do better against them."
3. 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."
4. Limit the Run – Let's face it – it's unlikely any team will keep the Ravens' punishing ground game in check. However, the Chargers at the very least must limit their production on the ground. The numbers prove that's no easy task. Since shaking up their offense and handing the reins to rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson seven weeks ago, the Ravens have run for an NFL-high 1,607 yards. They're averaging a ridiculous 229.6 yards per game, and are fresh off a dominating outing a week ago in which they fell just four yards short of 300 on the day. The Bolts somewhat held Baltimore in check in Week 16, but they know they have to do an even better job this time around. Here's what Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley had to say about the Ravens' ground attack:
"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. So it's like, okay, 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."
5. Lay it All on the Line – Win and move on. Lose and there's no tomorrow. It's do-or-die, so it's time to lay it all on the line. Sure, those phrases are as cliché as it gets…but it's also absolutely true. The Chargers were one of the NFL's top teams in the regular season, tying for an AFC-leading 12 wins. However, that means nothing now. Every team is on equal footing at 0-0. Philip Rivers has been in this position before, and he emphasized how the team needs to lay it all on the line:
"Certainly, (you) don't want to be reckless, but I think.… you play careful. You always want to protect the football, but you don't think you want to play scared to make a play or make a mistake because then you won't make any plays and you'll go, 'Gosh, we should have done this or should have done that.' So you've definitely got to cut it loose, but at the same time, manage all those situations — that whole situational football stuff that we work on all the time and have been in many games this year. You've done something very well, done some things not so well. We learn from those and you go prepare so you can handle whatever comes our way on Sunday."
Take a look through the top practice photos as the Bolts get ready for their Wild Card matchup in Baltimore.