Analysis of the Ravens and San Diego Chargers' offense, defense, special teams and intangibles heading into Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff.
Analysis of the Ravens and San Diego Chargers offense, defense, special teams and intangibles heading into Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff.
RAVENS: Joe Flacco has thrown an interception in every game but one this season and continues to struggle to find big plays down the field. He's averaging less than 6.5 yards per passing attempt, which ranks 29th among NFL starting quarterbacks. The fact that Steve Smith Sr. has more receiving yards and touchdown catches than the team's other receivers combined speaks to the ongoing struggles of Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. Chris Givens needs to be more involved.
CHARGERS: Sizable early deficits, a static running game and a host of injuries along the offensive line have put more burden than ever on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. He leads the NFL with 2,452 yards passing and he's one behind the league lead with 15 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Keenan Allen leads the league with 62 receptions and Rivers also relies heavily on his tight ends and running backs in the passing game. San Diego's makeshift offensive line has surrendered 18 sacks. (EDGE: CHARGERS)
RAVENS: The Ravens run game is again sputtering as teams, not scared of the one-on-one matchups on the outside, stack the box and force Flacco to beat them with his arm. Justin Forsett had a 14-yard touchdown run against the Arizona Cardinals, but on his other 11 carries, he gained just 22 yards. Eight of Forsett's carries went for one yard or less. The Ravens continue to struggle to run the ball on third down. Rookie Buck Allen has done some positive things in limited opportunities.
RUNNING GAME: Chargers first-round NFL draft pick Melvin Gordon, whom the Ravens coveted, has been a disappointment so far, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, failing to score a touchdown and fumbling the ball four times. His ball security issues and a recent ankle injury have resulted in more touches for Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead, who leads all NFL running backs with 37 receptions. San Diego ranks 29th in the league in rushing, averaging 87.1 yards per game. (EDGE: RAVENS)
RAVENS: This unit is the least of the coaching staff's concerns, although it let up at times against the Cardinals and allowed 150 yards rushing. Chris Johnson became the second back to rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens this season, but 62 of his 122 yards came on the disputed third-quarter run during which the defense thought his progress was stopped. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith ranks sixth in the NFL with 62 tackles. Otherwise, tackling has been an issue for the Ravens.
CHARGERS: Only the Cleveland Browns are allowing more rushing yards than the Chargers. San Diego is surrendering 132.1 rushing yards per game and they've allowed seven touchdowns on the ground. A major part of the issue has been injuries to inside linebackers. Manti Te'o has missed the past two games with a foot injury. His replacement, Denzel Perryman, a rookie second-round draft pick, sustained a biceps injury last month. (EDGE: RAVENS)
RAVENS: The Ravens made some changes against Arizona, using Shareece Wright on the outside with Jimmy Smith and moving Lardarius Webb to the slot. The secondary held up reasonably well, but the defense as a whole hasn't forced a turnover in 48 consecutive drives. The Ravens have given up the fourth most passing yards in the NFL and only the Dallas Cowboys have fewer than the Ravens' three interceptions. Elvis Dumervil has gone three consecutive games without a full sack.
CHARGERS: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr picked this group apart last week, completing 24 of 31 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Still, the Chargers rank as a top-10 pass defense. Safety Eric Weddle, arguably San Diego's top defensive player, missed last week with a groin injury and it showed. Otherwise, the Chargers have three solid cornerbacks in Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett and Patrick Robinson. They do struggle to consistently get to the quarterback. (EDGE: CHARGERS)
RAVENS: A punt block and some solid work from the coverage units last week continued what has been a solid season for special teams. One of the few issues has been penalties. Ravens coaches showed some faith in return man Jeremy Ross despite his second-quarter fumble against the Cardinals, but they won't have too much more patience with ball security issues. Sam Koch is having one of the best seasons of his career and ranks second in the NFL with a 44.6-yard net punting average.
CHARGERS: The Chargers signed Jacoby Jones to a two-year deal in March to jumpstart their return game, but the former Raven missed three games with an ankle injury and hasn't made an impact when he has played. San Diego's average field possession after kickoffs is just beyond the 19-yard line, the worst in the league. They also have three total punt return yards all season. First-year kicker Josh Lambo has made 7 of 9 field-goal attempts from 40 yards or beyond. (EDGE: RAVENS)
RAVENS: Many of the peripheral advantages that the Ravens used to hold over teams have disappeared. They turn the ball over and struggle to force turnovers. They are one of the league's most penalized teams and they can't even seem to win at home anymore. The Ravens are 11-1 at home against West Coast-based teams, but the loss came against the Chargers last year. The Ravens are playing hard and sticking together, but a sense of doom seemingly arises late in games.
CHARGERS: Mike McCoy's team just can't find the right balance. They throw the ball as well as any team in the league, but struggle to run it. They do a solid job defending the pass, but are among the worst teams in the NFL at stopping the run. The Chargers are 0-3 on the road this season and they've surrendered 82 points in those three games. Slow starts are consistently forcing them to get one dimensional on offense. Turnovers and penalties are happening too often, as well. (EDGE: EVEN)
What once looked to be an intriguing matchup between two AFC contenders now features two of the NFL's most disappointing and flawed teams. The Ravens and Chargers have been plagued by slow starts, but the Chargers have shown more of an ability to finish strong. Because of that — and Rivers' penchant for getting the ball out fast to his cadre of weapons and making clutch throws — the Chargers have the slight edge. The bye week can't come soon enough for these Ravens. CHARGERS, 31-27