Behind Enemy Lines: Chargers vs. Ravens I

Our experts, Aaron Wilson of and Michael Lombardo of, analyze Sunday's game between the Ravens and Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Let's start this series with six questions from Michael to Aaron.

Michael Lombardo: The Ravens are coming off a devastating loss courtesy of Phil Dawson's controversial field goal. Four of their final six games pit them against current AFC division leaders, and Baltimore probably has to win them all to make the playoffs. What has that, in addition to the injuries to leaders Steve McNair and Trevor Pryce, done to the team's psyche? Do you expect the Ravens to be fierce or flat?

Aaron Wilson: The team seems fairly resigned to their fate, but determined to fight hard to save face for pride and job security's sake. The defensive players are hopeful that defensive coordinator Rex Ryan could be promoted to head coach if Brian Billick is fired. Right now, Billick is supposedly safe, but that could change if the team isn't competitive in the second half.

ML: Kyle Boller and Philip Rivers seem to have a lot in common. Both are former first-round picks who have spent a lot of time on the bench, enjoyed some ups and downs, and endured harsh criticism from the fans. How do you compare and contrast these two? Who is the better player and who has the bigger upside?

AW: I think Boller would get the edge for arm strength and obviously mobility. Very good athlete, but his mechanics and decision-making are much worse than Rivers, who is comparably polished and refined as a quarterback. I would prefer Rivers and think he has more potential based on his superior football intelligence. Usually you would pick the better athlete, but not in this case.

ML: The Chargers have shown an unusual vulnerability against the run, allowing 296 yards to Adrian Peterson in week nine and 112 yards to the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. The Ravens have an average rushing attack (No. 19), but they boast a franchise player in Willis McGahee who is coming off a big game (102 yards and a touchdown). What did the Ravens do to spring McGahee against the Cleveland Browns and can they repeat that showing in San Diego?

AW: Willis McGahee has quietly had a very good season. What he did against Cleveland isn't an aberration, it's almost the rule. He has only had quiet games when the Ravens have fallen way behind. Even though he's underutilized, he's having an above-average season and does everything well. Solid acquisition overall.

ML: Former editor Denis Savage reported during the 2005 draft that, had Shawne Merriman not fallen to No. 12, Mark Clayton would have been the Chargers' selection. What are your impressions of Clayton after his two-plus seasons with the team? Why have his numbers taken such a hit this season?

AW: Mark Clayton is rarely completely healthy and he hasn't had consistent quarterbacking and pass protection to take advantage of. He did break through a little bit against the Cincinnati Bengals due to Kyle Boller's insertion and superior ability to throw deep compared to Steve McNair, whose arm strength has diminished dramatically in recent years.

ML: Which Ravens player will emerge from underneath the radar to be an X-factor in Sunday's game?

AW: Watch out for linebacker Jarret Johnson. Although unheralded, he's a big factor against the run and has been a stalwart replacement for former Baltimore All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas. Johnson plays with outstanding leverage and can't be reach blocked.

ML: The Chargers and Ravens finished the 2006 season with a combined record of 27-5. Now, that aggregate mark is 9-11. Not only is that a bad omen for patriots everywhere, but for Brian Billick and Norv Turner as well. Which head coach do you believe has to best chance to keep his job through the 2008 season?

AW: I would say Brian Billick because of the perception that Norv Turner has screwed up a sure thing. If notorious hard-ass general manager A.J. Smith pays for this bad hire with his job, then obviously Turner is out, too, and a new regime would be installed. The Ravens have had 15 players miss a total of 54 games due to injuries this year.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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