Game Snapshot: Chargers-Ravens

San Diego rediscovered its winning ways by taking advantage of two bottom-feeders. Now, the Bolts must topple one of the NFL's powerhouses to keep their playoff dreams alive. To set the table for this game, we go over team reports, personnel updates and keys to the game.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 12/18/11
SURFACE: Natural grass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

PREDICTION: Ravens 24-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: Ravens coach John Harbaugh has been pleased with the play of his offensive line as the season wears on, and Baltimore will attempt to wear down a San Diego defense that allows 128.9 yards per game on the ground. RB Ray Rice will get plenty of early touches on the ground and through the air to set up play-action, and San Diego lacks a difference-maker in the pass rush.

The Chargers do have an excellent vertical passing game, but will QB Philip Rivers have the time to throw over the top? He has been sacked 30 times behind a beat-up offensive line and Baltimore has a league-high 45 sacks. If RB Ryan Mathews isn't involved early, Rivers will be throwing under tremendous heat.

FAST FACTS: Rice leads the NFL with 1,622 yards from scrimmage. ... After setting a single-season career high with 17 interceptions through just 10 games, Rivers has not thrown one the past three weeks.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers

The Chargers need to match the Ravens' physical style of play Sunday night to possibly keep their playoff hopes alive.

But Thursday's practice didn't include two key players who'll be asked to deliver some brawn this weekend: inside linebackers Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler.

Spikes (back) and Butler (foot) haven't worked this week as the Chargers prepare to close out their home schedule in what has been a disappointing season.

Spikes and Butler have been slowed the past two weeks by their ailments; neither has missed a game.

But this week, more so than others, the Chargers need their muscle in the middle.

The Ravens aren't shy about pointing running back Ray Rice at the line of scrimmage - either through a rush or a reception. It's imperative the Chargers' two big run-stuffers at linebacker are available.

Rice, who has 12 touchdowns, leads the NFL with 1,622 yards from scrimmage. No running back can match his 593 receiving yards.

"He's a complete player," coach Norv Turner said. "He is like a lot of the great runners I have been around: he has great vision, great balance. He's an awful good competitor."

That's why Spikes and Butler need to be dressed and ready for the challenge. Not only is tracking Rice a tall task, but there's battling the Ravens' beefy offensive line and wrestling with bruising fullback Vonta Leach.

"If we don't have them, the guys (playing behind them) have played very little football," said Turner, who sounded optimistic Spikes and Butler would go Sunday. "That's a big difference so having them would be real important for us."

Spikes, who started his 200th career game last Sunday, has been solid all season. He leads the Chargers with 101 tackles. It marks the 11th occasion in his 15 seasons he's eclipsed the century mark, and fourth time in five years.

Butler's play has been among the Chargers' most pleasant surprises. After missing his rookie season with an Achilles' tendon injury, the first-year starter has 86 tackles.

Ravens

Lee Evans would readily agree to hit the rewind button on the 2011 season. Then again, that would be the easy way out and the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver isn't looking for that.

"It would be easy to say yes to that, but I've learned a lot being injured," Evans said. "I was able to sit back and learn, especially with building up to December. So it's not been all bad. I've learned a lot from the guys in this locker room, but at the end of the day, I'm a player and I want to play as much as possible. That's what I'm looking at now. If I've done the right thing while I was injured, then I'd be able to come back and hopefully add something to it."

Evans' first campaign with Baltimore has been tremendously disappointing for the fans, but maybe even moreso for the eight-year veteran. On Aug. 13, Evans, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Buffalo Bills, was acquired by the Ravens with the hope that he could inject some adrenaline in the offense's passing attack.

But Evans injured his left ankle during the preseason, and although he started in the team's first two contests of the season, the pain became too much to bear and it was recommended that Evans sit for some time.

That time turned into a seven-game absence for Evans, who has ceded his starting role to rookie Torrey Smith. Evans has returned for Baltimore's last four games, but watching from the sideline took its toll.

"I was (itching to return), and there were points where I'd be getting a lot better and then all of a sudden take a step back," he admitted. "So it was a frustrating process, but I just had to try to stay the course and understand that later in the season, there came a point in time when I would be healthy to get back out there and be playing. That's what I had to prepare myself for."

For the season, Evans has caught just four passes for 74 yards, including just two receptions for 29 yards since returning against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 20.

Evans could inflate those numbers, but his playing time has been limited due to the presence of starters Anquan Boldin and Smith. Boldin leads all receivers with 103 targets this season, and Smith leads the team in yards per catch (18.7) and receiving touchdowns (six).

If effective, however, Evans could provide the offense with a facet it has never had before: two players in himself and Smith who can stretch the field and either turn in big plays or open short and intermediate routes for Boldin, running back Ray Rice or tight end Ed Dickson.

"Obviously, he's a threat out there," coach John Harbaugh said. "Certainly we want to see all of our guys catch as many balls and carry as many balls as possible. So all those guys should get their opportunities going forward."

Evans is also catching up with quarterback Joe Flacco in the trust department. And that's where the ankle injury was as taxing mentally as it was physically.

"On the field, timing-wise, all that, I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect that at all because it did," Evans acknowledged. "And I got a late start coming halfway through training camp. So I already knew I was behind the 8-ball a little bit, and me missing those games certainly didn't help. But the only thing I could try to do was still try to be around everybody and be able to talk to Joe in meetings and be there for him on the field as well."

Flacco said the pair is working on the on-field chemistry.

"It's growing. It's getting there," Flacco said. "I think he came in here as a pretty explosive player from the beginning and then obviously, not being healthy at the beginning of the year threw a little bit of that off. But he's out there and getting better each week. We're working towards getting there."

Evans is intent on building something out of his significantly truncated season in Baltimore, which is why he is a frequent contributor in the offense's meeting rooms.

With three games left in the regular season and perhaps a few more in the postseason, Evans knows his opportunity is fast approaching.

"Obviously, things haven't gone according to the way I thought they would have gone when I first came here," he said. "But I've just been trying to be as consistent and work as hard as possible. But moreso than that, with where we are as a team and where we can go, that's what I'm excited about right now."

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers

--DE Jacques Cesaire (ankle) didn't work on Thursday and there is a good chance he is down this week. The veteran Cesaire is a crucial member of the front line's rotation.

--S Darrell Stuckey (groin) was limited in practice and he has a shot of playing Sunday after missing the previous game. Stuckey contributes on special teams.

--C Colin Baxter (ankle) didn't practice, although he did some work on the side. Starting C Nick Hardwick battled a neck injury earlier this year, so the Chargers could be thin here if Hardwick was to aggravate it.

--OLB Antwan Barnes has been quite a pickup after being cut by the Eagles last year. But Barnes started his career as the Ravens' fourth-round pick in 2007, getting five sacks in three years. Barnes should be motivated for a big game; he leads the Chargers with a career-high seven sacks.

--KR Richard Goodman has started to give the return game a boost. Goodman, in his first year as a returner, ranks eighth in the NFL with a 26.1-yard average, with a long this year of 44 yards.

Ravens

--LB Ray Lewis was limited in practice for the second straight day. Lewis, who has missed four consecutive games because of a turf toe injury on his right foot, appears to be close to returning for Sunday's contest against the San Diego Chargers.

--DT Haloti Ngata practiced on a limited basis on Thursday. Ngata, who did not practice on Wednesday because of a sore back, is expected to start against San Diego.

--LG Ben Grubbs was limited in practice after sitting out Wednesday's session. Grubbs, who is dealing with a toe injury, is expected to start against the Chargers.

--DE Cory Redding did not practice for the second consecutive day. Redding, who has been bothered by a balky ankle, is questionable for San Diego.

--CB Lardarius Webb sat out practice for the second straight day. Webb, who injured the big toe on his left foot on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, is not expected to play against the Chargers.

--K Billy Cundiff did not practice for the second consecutive day. Cundiff, who played against Indianapolis despite a sore left calf, is expected to play against San Diego.

--CB Chris Carr was limited for the second straight day. Carr, who has missed the last three contests because of a back ailment, is questionable for the game against the Chargers.



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