Jeff Zrebiec's scouting report: Ravens vs. Chargers


Quarterback Joe Flacco continues to be an enigma away from M&T Bank Stadium. In five road games, he's completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 883 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. In five games at home, his completion percentage is 66.5 to go along with 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. In a loss to the Chargers last year, Flacco threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times. He's turned the ball over just once in his past three games.



What is wrong with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers? The Ravens would tell you nothing, as the veteran has torched them for 1,100 yards, seven touchdowns and a 100.8 quarterback rating while throwing three interceptions in four games. But Rivers has been a different quarterback the past couple of seasons and he leads the AFC with 14 interceptions. Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates are good pass-catching options, but Rivers misses Vincent Jackson and could use more support from his offensive line, which has allowed 26 sacks.



The Ravens' running game is starting to become a concern. In four of the past five games, the Ravens haven't eclipsed more than 90 yards rushing. In the past two weeks, they've averaged just 2.8 and 2.0 yards per carry. Despite two Pro Bowl selections last year with Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach, the Ravens are 25th in the NFL in rushing (99.1 yards per game). Rice is on pace for 1,115 rushing yards which would be his lowest total since his rookie year.


The Chargers are averaging about one more rushing yard per game than the Ravens, though third-year back Ryan Mathews has been a big disappointment. He leads the Chargers with 522 yards rushing but he has just one touchdown. Jackie Battle is the Chargers' short-yardage back, while Ronnie Brown is mostly used as a receiver out of the backfield. Former Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain plays sparingly. San Diego has only four rushing touchdowns this year.



The Ravens' run defense is still ranked 27th in the NFL but there have been some improvements made after a three-week span in which they allowed 622 yards on the ground. In three games since, the Ravens have surrendered 322 rushing yards, including 134 to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who entered the starting lineup when Ray Lewis went down, is second on the Ravens with 72 tackles. The return of Terrell Suggs has helped set the edge.


With big Corey Liuget in the middle and active linebacker Donald Butler behind him leading the team in tackles, the Chargers have had one of the best run defenses in the NFL. They've allowed just 87.9 yards rushing per game on the ground, the third lowest total in the league, and four rushing touchdowns, the sixth lowest total in the NFL. San Diego has held five of its 10 opponents this season to less than 75 yards rushing.




From Corey Graham's interception to Bernard Pollard's punishing hits to relentless pressure on Byron Leftwich, this group probably played its best all-around game last week. Graham and Chykie Brown elevated their play in the absence of Jimmy Smith, and outside linebacker Paul Kruger has three sacks in his past two games. Suggs doesn't have a sack in three straight games, but he's seemingly freed things up for his teammates. Quietly, the Ravens have built a plus-12 turnover ratio, tied for the second best in the NFL.


The combination of cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer and safeties Atari Bigby and Eric Weddle have started every game for the Chargers, who have allowed 19 passing touchdowns this season. Overall, the Chargers are surrendering 236 yards per game through the air. Bigby is a big hitter and Weddle is their big-play guy, with three of San Diego's nine interceptions. Linebacker Shaun Phillips leads the team with six sacks.



People keep kicking to Jacoby Jones and the Ravens return specialist keeps making them regret it. His 63-yard punt return was the Ravens' only touchdown in their victory over the Steelers and was his third return score this season. Jones also leads the NFL with a 37.4-yard kick return average. He's been the star of a unit that has gotten reliable kicking and punting from Justin Tucker and Sam Koch and stingy coverage. Anthony Allen and James Ihedigbo have become standouts.


The Chargers coverage teams will be challenged Sunday against Jacoby Jones, but their kick coverage has been solid. Opponents are starting drives on average at their own 20.6-yard line. Punter Mike Scifres, a high school teammate of Ravens safety Ed Reed, ranks third in the NFL in gross punting average and owns the NFL's highest career percentage of punts landing inside the 20. Nick Novak (Maryland) has hit 9 of 10 field goal attempts since taking over for Nate Kaeding.



For some reason, the Chargers just haven't been a good matchup for the Ravens. Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 1-2 against San Diego and they've given up 92 points in those three games, including last year's 34-14 debacle. It's also been a short week with a physical and late game Sunday night followed by a long trip out to the West Coast five days later. In their favor, the Ravens are 7-1 versus the AFC this season and 9-1 against the AFC West under Harbaugh.


San Diego is again a team in turmoil with coach Norv Turner facing daily questions about his job status and Rivers about his regression. The Chargers have lost five of their past six games to fall to the outside of the AFC playoff race, and their one win during that stretch is over lowly Kansas City. One thing they do have going for them is that Rivers seems to light up at the sight of the Ravens' defense. The Chargers are 4-2 against the Ravens at home.




Regardless of how poorly the Chargers have played lately, this is a tough spot for the Ravens given the emotional and physical toll of the Steelers win, the abbreviated week and the trip out West. They are also facing a desperate team that they have struggled against. The bet here is that those struggles continue as the offense can't move the ball consistently and Rivers finds a rhythm against an injury-laden Ravens defense.

Chargers, 23-17

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