Game Primer: Chargers vs. Ravens

The Chargers, losers of five of their last six games, have essentially conceded the division to the Broncos. They have slim hopes in the wild card race, but seem more likely to undergo sweeping organizational changes than author a playoff push. Does this team have any fight left? The answer comes Sunday against the Ravens.

When the Chargers Run

Ryan Mathews must take advantage of the slumping run defense of the once-stout Ravens. Only ranked No. 27, Baltimore's front line has missed eight tackles at the line of scrimmage.

The run game needs to be more of a presence on third down. Last week, San Diego was only 3-for-16 converting third downs. On top of that, all three of Von Miller's sacks came on third down.

San Diego has not punched in a rushing TD since Week 5 against New Orleans.

When The Chargers Pass

The good news: Philip Rivers has had success against the Ravens. In three career meetings, Rivers has 955 yards with six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 106.3 passer rating. The bad news: more than seven percent of Rivers' throws are intercepted when he is under pressure.

The key is pass protection. RT Jeromey Clary has given up eight sacks and 19 pressures. Additionally, LG Tyronne Green is out with a hamstring injury. Veteran Rex Hadnot gets the start in his place.

Now that Jared Gaither has finally been placed on injured-reserve, the matchup to watch will be undrafted rookie Mike Harris versus Paul Kruger. Harris has yielded four sacks and 31 pressures. Kruger has three sacks in the past two weeks.

Danario Alexander continues to shine. In his short time with the Chargers, Alexander has 12 receptions for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Alexander is averaging 19.2 yards per catch.

Antonio Gates is one touchdown away from tying Hall of Famer Lance Alworth (81) for the most touchdown receptions in team history.

When The Ravens Run

Ray Rice has struggled some this season with a toe injury. Last week, he was held to just 40 yards on 20 carries. Rice can be a deadly weapon, but in his current condition, he should not be a problem for the Chargers' No. 3 ranked rush defense.

Watch for Jarret Johnson, who spent his entire career in Baltimore prior to this season, to have a big game. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want this one badly," he said. In 143 games with the Ravens, he amassed 523 tackles, 20 sacks, nine forced fumbles and three interceptions.

Aubrayo Franklin will be back in the lineup at nose tackle. He needs to get back to form to be effective against Rice. Franklin was also a former draft pick of the Ravens back in 2003.

When The Ravens Pass

Joe Flacco's performance will determine the outcome of this game. The Ravens have won 16 consecutive games when Flacco has a 100-plus QB rating.

The matchup to watch on defense will be Quentin Jammer versus Torrey Smith. The second-year receiver has turned into the Ravens' most dangerous threat, already matching last year's production with seven touchdowns. The Ravens are 9-1 when Smith scores a touchdown.

This matchup leaves WR Anquan Boldin free to roam against Antoine Cason and Marcus Gilchrist. Boldin leads the team with 627 yards on 48 receptions. This is good new for Boldin, because opposing passers have torn apart the San Diego secondary. Quarterbacks are completing over 75 percent of their passes when attacking Gilchrist, Cason and Atari Bigby.

Kendall Reyes enjoyed a breakout game last week, recording two fourth quarter sacks on Peyton Manning, San Diego will need him to continue that momentum.

Just For Kicks

The Bolts placed LS Mike Windt on injured reserve this week, signing Kyle Nelson, who will see immediate action.

Ravens KR Jacoby Jones posted a 63-yard punt return touchdown in Week 11. Since entering the NFL in 2007, Jones is tied for third in the league with seven combined kick-return touchdowns (four punts, three kickoffs).

Can the Bolts climb back into the wild card race? Discuss in the message boards.

Brian Ducoffe is in his second year of covering San Diego sports. He has been previously published in University Link Magazine and wrote as an NBA columnist for Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.

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