The Ravens have won four straight since losing to the Raiders in overtime in Week 1. They have played in some crazy games through five weeks, and a meeting with the mighty Los Angeles Chargers might be their toughest test yet. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
Ravens passing game vs. Chargers pass defense
Quarterback Lamar Jackson rallied the Ravens to victory over the Indianapolis Colts with the greatest passing game of his career (37 of 43, 442 yards, 4 touchdowns). Jackson’s performance continued his recent trend of attacking downfield against defenses designed to stymie the Ravens at the line of scrimmage. He leads the league in air yards per attempt and air yards per completion, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. The Ravens rank sixth in the league in passing and third in yards per attempt after ranking 32nd and 21st last season, so their offense has changed radically. Jackson’s favorite targets, wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, had huge games against the Colts, with a combined 20 catches on 23 targets for 272 yards and four touchdowns. Andrews has graded as the league’s No. 1 tight end, according to Pro Football Focus, and Brown is No. 7 among wide receivers. Jackson has targeted second-year wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche II more frequently over the past two weeks, completing 14 of 18 attempts to the unsung pair. The next question is how the Ravens will integrate No. 1 pick Rashod Bateman as he comes back from groin surgery. Jackson will try to keep his roll going against a Chargers defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 6.4 yards per attempt, 13th in the league.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 23 of 32 passes for 305 yards in a 47-42 loss to the Chargers in Week 5. Los Angeles has an elite pass rusher in outside linebacker Joey Bosa (2½ sacks, 6 quarterback hits) and a solid secondary led by safety Derwin James (1 interception, 2 passes defended, 1½ sacks). The Chargers have struggled to cover tight ends, ranking 29th in DVOA against them, according to Football Outsiders. That could point to another productive week for Andrews.
Chargers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Quarterback Justin Herbert was nearly as productive as Jackson in Week 5, throwing for 398 yards and four touchdowns in that shootout victory over the Browns. Herbert has one of the most powerful arms in the sport but does a lot of his damage with short, quick passes to running back Austin Ekeler (23 catches on 25 targets, 194 yards, 3 touchdowns) and slot receiver Keenan Allen (34 catches on 53 targets, 369 yards). Wide receiver Mike Williams (15.2 yards per catch, 6 touchdowns) is his top downfield target (he missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury). Herbert ranks 23rd in air yards per attempt and 21st in air yards per completion, according to Next Gen Stats, but he gets his passes off in an average of 2.67 seconds, tied for eighth quickest in the league. With solid protection from a line led by rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater, he has been sacked just nine times, four fewer than Jackson. His approach could be bad news for a Ravens defense that struggled to defend the Colts’ underneath passing game in Week 5.
The Ravens have done a good job covering No. 1 receivers but rank 23rd in DVOA against No. 2 receivers, 21st against tight ends and 29th against running backs, according to Football Outsiders. Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz tortured them with screens and outside passes targeting cornerback Anthony Averett as he completed 25 of 35 attempts for 402 yards. Wentz was the third quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against a defense that ranks 28th in the league against the pass. This is unfamiliar territory for the Ravens, who allowed opposing quarterbacks to average just 5.6 yards per attempt last season (that’s up to 7.3 this year). Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been solid in coverage. Defensive end Calais Campbell and rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh have pressured the pocket. But opponents have picked on the team’s inside linebackers and less experienced defensive backs to great effect.
Ravens running game vs. Chargers run defense
The Ravens lost the battle at the line of scrimmage in Week 5 as running backs Latavius Murray, Ty’Son Williams and Devonta Freeman combined for just 24 yards on 11 carries. The Ravens’ streak of 100-yard rushing games ended at 43 as their ground total declined for a third straight week. With teams loading up the box to stop them, they have turned to the pass to win. Jackson (341 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) remains their top running threat, but even he’s encountering more traffic on designed carries.
The good news for the Ravens is that the Chargers have allowed at least 180 rushing yards in three of their past four games. They’ve given up 5.6 yards per carry, last in the league. The Browns, led by Nick Chubb, trampled them for 230 yards on 35 carries. The Chargers don’t have a single dominant run stopper on their defensive line, so if the Ravens are to jump-start their power game, this would be the week. They need better run-blocking games from guard Ben Powers and center Bradley Bozeman, who struggled against the Colts.
Chargers running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Chargers are a pass-first team, ranking 17th in the league in rushing and rushing attempts, but Ekeler (349 yards, 5.2 yards per carry) has made the most of his chances. He’ll look to slash through a Ravens defensive front that allowed 123 yards on 26 carries against the Colts. Though the Ravens rank seventh in run defense, they rank just 19th in DVOA against the run, according to Football Outsiders, which shows opponents have moved efficiently on the ground. The Ravens have been weaker than usual on the interior, with only Campbell grading as an above-average run defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Second-year linebacker Patrick Queen has graded as one of the worst run defenders at his position, though he did pick up his play as the Colts game went on.
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Ravens special teams vs. Chargers special teams
Justin Tucker did not have much to do against the Colts, but he has made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts this season, including his 66-yard game-winner against the Detroit Lions. Devin Duvernay has averaged an outstanding 17.2 yards on 11 punt returns, double what opponents have averaged on 10 returns against the Ravens. Coordinator Chris Horton’s crew ranks second in special teams DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, the same spot the Ravens finished in last season. They have a clear leg up on the Chargers, who rank 29th in special teams DVOA.
Los Angeles kicker Tristan Vizcaino has made just 10 of 14 extra-point attempts, and the Chargers have cost themselves field position by averaging 16.5 yards on 10 kickoff returns.
Ravens intangibles vs. Chargers intangibles
The Ravens have won their last four games, with three of those coming on improbable comebacks. Their belief in Jackson might have hit a new peak after his passing heroics against the Colts. He’s 34-8 in the regular season as a starter. The Chargers have won three straight and are just as confident in their young quarterback, Herbert, after he led them to 47 points against the Browns. First-year coach Brandon Staley was a highly-regarded defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams before he took over the Chargers. He went for it on fourth down three times against the Browns (the Chargers converted all three), demonstrating an aggressiveness reminiscent of Ravens coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens had to prepare for the Chargers on a short week after playing Monday night — though that may be an advantage for Jackson and Co. — while the Chargers have to travel from the West Coast for a 1 p.m. game.
The Chargers’ offense, led by Herbert, presents a difficult stylistic matchup for the Ravens, who have struggled to defend short, quick passes. But if the Ravens get their running game going, they will present just as many problems for a Los Angeles defense that just gave up 42 points to the Browns. Expect a high-scoring affair, with the Ravens’ superiority on special teams coming into play. Ravens 34, Chargers 30