By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
3:17 PM EST, November 23, 2012
It was an unforgettable journey to the West Coast last season for all of the wrong reasons for the Ravens, a series of embarrassing moments against the San Diego Chargers burned into their memory.
During the Ravens' 34-14 debacle of a road loss last December at Qualcomm Stadium, strong-armed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was in full gunslinger mode with plenty of time to easily lob spirals over the flailing hands of the Baltimore defensive backs.
Rivers' towering wide receivers dashed past the secondary as San Diego scored on its first five possessions, including four touchdowns.
The reigning AFC North champion Ravens (8-2) return to San Diego on Sunday for a rematch with the Chargers (4-6), and they are understandably concerned about avoiding a similar performance.
"Last year, it wasn't that pleasant," said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was limited to only two tackles and no sacks last year while primarily facing off against former Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither. "Before I could look up, it was 31-7. It was like raining touchdowns out there. He's a good quarterback.
"We definitely can't make it a seven-on-seven contest. We definitely have to play some better defense. We can't let him get real comfortable back there."
Dismantled by the Chargers in a nationally televised contest, the Ravens were unable to stop former Baltimore outside linebacker Antwan Barnes from picking up four sacks.
With Rivers' precise passing (17-for-23 for 270 yards, one touchdown and no sacks), Chargers running back Ryan Mathews' two touchdowns in inside linebacker Ray Lewis' first game back from a toe injury, and Ravens quarterbacks being sacked a season-high seven times (Joe Flacco five times and Tyrod Taylor, twice), it was an all-around ugly performance.
"I think that they just kicked our butts pretty much," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We could never get anything going offensively after the first drive. Defensively, we just couldn't stop them.
"Philip had our number from the beginning to the end. It was just one of those tough games for us. They had a great game plan, they outcoached us, they outplayed us and we had a tough time out there."
Although the Chargers are skidding downward with five losses in their past six games, that doesn't stop them from being a dangerous matchup for the Ravens. Rivers has already piled up 2,461 yards and 17 touchdowns, along with 14 interceptions.
Containing Rivers remains the primary focus for a defense that has improved gradually over the past three games in wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns, but still ranks 25th overall and 23rd against the pass. During that time, they've allowed an average of 15 points and 341 yards per game.
"Rivers is still one of the premier quarterbacks," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "The thing that makes him dangerous is he's got a lot of velocity on the ball and actually throws it pretty accurately and effectively down the field without having to step into it.
"He's very good at recognizing coverages. He's not a scrambling quarterback per se, but he's got that little bit of Ben Roethlisberger in him that he can avoid the rush, get rid of it and have a little something on it. That makes it harder."
Because Gaither is sidelined with a groin injury, the Ravens could potentially exploit undrafted free-agent tackle Michael Harris. He has allowed four sacks, five quarterback hits and 31 quarterback pressures while committing six penalties.
"We have to keep Rivers off his spot," Ravens nose guard Terrence Cody said. "When he gets hot, he can put up points in a hurry."
Despite losing wide receiver Vincent Jackson via free agency to the Buccaneers, the Chargers are still big and talented outside.
Easy to find at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, wide receiver Malcom Floyd leads San Diego with 43 receptions, 639 yards and three touchdowns. Veteran tight end Antonio Gates is still a formidable presence even though his statistics are down this year to 30 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Danario Alexander, a 6-5, 217-pounder who battled knee issues when he played for the Rams, caught two touchdown passes last week against the Broncos. He has 15 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games.
In most cases, the Ravens' defensive backs will be giving up four to five inches in height to the Chargers' receivers.
"It's a typical San Diego team, they're 6-4, 6-5 guys that can build speed as they go down the field," Pees said. "They've got a 50-50 chance of getting it because they're big."
As far as strong safety Bernard Pollard is concerned, nothing has really changed since last season's encounter.
"We're in the same position," Pollard said. "The Chargers are so much better than their record, and their offense is explosive. They can still stretch the field.
"They've got a competitive quarterback, one of the best when he's hot. We have to shut him up. We have to stop them from doing what they do best. We know what happened last year."
How could the Ravens forget?
They allowed the Chargers to pile up 415 yards of total offense and 23 first downs and didn't force a turnover.
The Chargers scored 27 unanswered points before former Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Flacco late in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.
"It was embarrassing," Cody said. "It's motivation because we know we're a better team than that. We have no excuses for that performance."
Although Pees downplayed the concept of gaining revenge, he acknowledged how much last year's game stung.
"Everybody always talks about the revenge factor, but it's really not the revenge factor," Pees said. "Revenge factor is really when you have a hatred for another team.
"I think they certainly got our attention and our respect, not that they didn't already have it going into that game. It just shows if you don't play your best they can embarrass you, and they did."
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