1. Maximize Possessions – The Ravens defense is as good as it gets, leading the league in points against and total defense while ranking third against the run and the pass. So, it’ll obviously be tough sledding for Philip Rivers and company, but what really compounds the issue is how much Baltimore dominates time of possession. In fact, they lead the league in that category, averaging over 32 minutes on the year. That number has grown as the year’s gone on, especially since Lamar Jackson became the starter. The Ravens are actually averaging over 35 minutes per game over the last three weeks, so the Chargers may have fewer opportunities on offense than they’re accustomed to. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was asked just how frustrating it is playing a game in which you know you may only have limited possessions. His answer? Basically, the Bolts can only worry about what they have the power to control:
“That's part of it, you know. We've had games this year where we've been out there for a long time, and it certainly is fun when you do that — but (Baltimore has) done a good job of that. For us, we can control what we can control. So, when we get our opportunity to get on the field, we hopefully can take advantage of that.”
2. Stay Assignment-Sound – What Lamar Jackson has done since taking over as starter five games ago can’t be overstated. He’s guided the Ravens to a 4-1 record while running the ball almost as much as he throws it. Overall, his 427 rushing yards in his five starts are the most by any quarterback in NFL history over the first five starts of his career. They’re also the fifth-most of any player in the league over that span regardless of position. He’s truly as rare a playmaker there is right now in the NFL. Thus, it’s imperative the Bolts play assignment-sound defense, staying in their lane at all times. If they give Jackson even an inch, the rookie has proven he’ll make them pay. Just ask Head Coach Anthony Lynn, who raved about the way Jackson’s played since taking the reins:
“It’s just night and day from the Ravens offense when Joe (Flacco) was quarterback to now. So, it’s challenging, because you don’t see it every week. You have to play 11-on-11. You have to play with good discipline, sound football and win your one-on-ones. It’s definitely challenging, because you don’t see it every week.”
Newly-minted Pro Bowler Adrian Phillips was also asked about Jackson, and the safety had high-praise for the QB as well:
“Lamar can throw it like crazy, too, but he can blink and he's running 70 yards. So throughout the week we'll have drills that focus on keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not letting him get out. But he's a great athlete. He's going to get out. We just have to make sure that when he does, we get him on the ground quick."
3. Stop the Gus Bus – Lamar Jackson certainly makes the lion’s share of headlines, but Gus Edwards has been equally important during Baltimore’s run of success. The undrafted free agent has carried the ball 96 times for 486 yards (5.1 ypc) over the past five games, which is the fourth-best mark in the league over that span. While Baltimore’s ground attack is a well-oiled machine, they now face their stiffest test since Jackson took over in the Bolts’ ninth-ranked rush defense. So, it will be strength vs. strength at ROKiT Field at Stubhub Center Saturday night. Still, while all eyes will be on the quarterback, the Chargers know Edwards will also be in the middle of it all as Lynn explained how he’s an ideal complement for Jackson:
“Gus is running hard right now. He’s very decisive, hitting the holes, (is) physical (and creates) plays after contact. They have a good thing going. They are a good complement to one another, because Lamar makes you protect the perimeter and Gus, when the defense gets soft in the middle, Gus attacks it down the line in the middle. It’s a good complement to one another and what they’re doing and how they’re used in the scheme.”
4. Get Ready for a Dog Fight – Philip Rivers knows the Bolts’ physicality will be put to the test as the Ravens are a tough-nosed team known to impose their will. It’s pretty much in their DNA. It’s a tradition started by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and more over the past 18 years, and while Suggs is the only member of that trio that remains, Baltimore is every bit as rugged as ever. Thus, you can understand why Rivers stressed their physical nature when breaking down this week’s opponent:
“This defense, they built a culture there defensively (where for) longer than a decade…(they’re) playing a certain physical style and going to blitz from all over the place. Then, we're just going to line up and play sound defense. They really keep you off-balance, and they just fly to the football. You know, Suggs has been there forever, and he was a part of the old Ravens way back when. He's been there ahead of 14, 15, short of years. Had a heck of a career, doing it at a high level. A lot of those guys, the secondary, are high draft picks that can cover you, (and there’s the) linebacker that can really run. You've got big boys on the interior that can stop the run and penetrate. So it's a top defense in the league for a reason. You know, I just say we have our work cut out for us.”
Lynn echoed that very same sentiment, explaining how Baltimore’s offense winning time of possession allows the defense to stay fresh throughout the game:
“Baltimore's defense, they're physical. They're number one in the league at getting you behind the sticks early in downs. Their offense sometimes is their defense as well. They're fresh. They play 45, 50 snaps a game. So, we have to do a better job on the offensive side of the ball staying on the field, and special teams winning the hidden yards and we've got to slow them down on defense. So, it's a team effort by them, but their defense is really good.”
5. Get Gordon Going – One way to combat Baltimore’s physical defense and clock-controlling ways is to grind it out on the ground. Fortunately, the Bolts are getting back someone who excels in both areas in Melvin Gordon. The Pro Bowler returns to action following a three-game absence from a knee injury just in time to face the Ravens. However, the big question mark is how much the Chargers choose to use him considering he’s been out since the start of the month. To that end, Lynn opened up to reporters about his thought process entering Saturday night:
“He's been out a couple of weeks. He won't be on a pitch count, but we will be watching him closely because we have more than capable guys that can go in there and get the job done."
View the best photos from Thursday's practice as the Bolts prepare to take on the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night at StubHub Center.