There are only a handful of teams in the NFL who can create a little worry for the Ravens defense, and the San Diego Chargers should be one of them. Any other given week, the key to a Ravens victory will lie almost entirely on the offense, but not when an attack as well-rounded as the Chargers presents itself.
The Chargers present one of the most well-rounded, versatile offensive attacks in the league; they have for the past few seasons. Start with one of the league’s most dangerous running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson, add in a a speedy compliment, Darren Sproles, a rifle-armed quarterback, Philip Rivers, and the league’s best tight end, Antonio Gates; it all adds up to trouble.
In fact, the Chargers offense represents everything the Ravens want their offense to be. As Ravens fans have learned over the past 13 seasons, a one-dimensional attack is easy to handle. Even if your rushing game is outstanding, a team that can only run the ball faces serious limitations. But balance - the ability to run or throw with deadly execution on any play - presents a real problem for even the best defenses in the league.
It’s the ultimate catch-22, a paradox: if you blitz the pass, Darren Sproles will be in the secondary before you’re in the backfield; if you squeeze the run, Philip Rivers will pick you apart.
The Ravens defense is not out-matched, by any stretch of the imagination. We all know that the Ravens can handle just about anyone when they are on top of their game. But that’s the key, the Ravens will have to be far more perfect in San Diego than they were against the Chiefs. Missed assignments, missed tackles, lost footing - it will all spell disaster if it happens this Sunday because the Chargers won’t let an opponent get away with it.
On the ground, the Ravens biggest challenge will be containing the speedy Darren Sproles. LaDainian Tomlinson is recovering from a number of minor injuries, including a tweaked ankle, and will likely get limited touches on Sunday, if he plays at all. But Sproles is capable of handling the ground game all by his lonesome, even against a stout Ravens defense. If the Ravens overcommit, Sproles will burn them.
But here’s where the conundrum builds. While containing Sproles may require an element of patience, containing Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ pass attack is all about the blitz. If you saw any of the Raiders-Chargers game on Monday, you saw what Rivers can do with a little bit of time - even without a corps of big name receivers. To rattle Rivers, the Ravens have to hit him and hit him hard.
Luckily for the Ravens, their saving grace may come in the form of an injury report. The Chargers are banged-up, especially along the offensive line. At present, it is looking more and more likely that they will be without a pair of starters from Monday - when San Diego allowed three sacks. Add Tomlinson to the list of questionable starters, and things are looking up for the Ravens defense.
Regardless, the Ravens defense will have to be at its very best on Sunday to contain an explosive and balanced Chargers attack.
Oh, and a few signature turnovers wouldn’t hurt either…