Battle Plans: Chargers versus Ravens

Don't let the Chargers' 0-2 start fool you. This team is not as dead as people believe they are. San Diego is a talented team on both sides of the ball, especially on offense.

With their backs up against the wall, the Chargers will be an extremely dangerous foe to match up against for the Ravens.

With that said, if Baltimore can manage to eek out a victory on the road, they will set themselves up for a strong start to the season. Aside from a stiff test against the 2-0 Chiefs at home next Sunday, the Ravens match up against a hapless Cardinals team on the road, an improving yet defensively challenged Bengals team in Cincinnati, and face both the Broncos and Jaguars —two teams that the Ravens have winning streaks against-- at home during the next five games. A 6-2 record during the first half of the season is not out of reach, if the black birds can take care of business against a wounded Chargers team this Sunday.

Offensive Keys to Victory

1. Jumping to an Early Lead: During San Diego's tumultuous 0-2 start to the season, they have been outscored 48-10 by the Chiefs and Broncos respectively going into halftime. With Denver and Kansas City flying out of the gates early, the Chargers have had to pass the ball in the second half to catch up; making LaDainian Tomlinson a non-factor in both games (Tomlinson has only carried the ball 29 times so far this season).

The Ravens would like to be the third team in a row to throttle the Chargers' young defense early by gaining a cushy lead to start the game. However, Baltimore does not have the quick strike ability of Denver and Kansas City because its passing game is in complete flux.  


If this is a tight game going into the fourth quarter, Tomlinson and specifically the Chargers' offensive line, has the potential to completely wear down the Ravens' front seven.        


2. Using Lewis as a Decoy: Unlike last week, when the Ravens simply dared the Browns front seven to stop Jamal Lewis using eight and nine man fronts and they still couldn't come close, the Chargers will be more focused and poised to keep Lewis bottled up.


Although San Diego has been down right embarrassing against the run to start the season, they've still got a front seven that is talented enough to hold Lewis down in this game. When healthy and focused, Jamal Williams is a premier run-stopping defensive tackle. Jason Fisk, who plays alongside of Williams, isn't that strong but is scrappy and quick.


If both players are able to get penetration up the middle, that will force Lewis to make his cuts east and west where he is not nearly as dangerous.


Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh needs to take advantage of the Chargers' defensive aggressiveness up front by using Lewis as a decoy in the running game. The Ravens could use the end around play to spring WR Travis Taylor loose on a run off the edge. There could also be an opportunity for both Alan Ricard and Chester Taylor to gain significant yardage off of pitch/dive plays after the handoff is faked to Lewis first.  


3. Rolling out Boller: Not only should Lewis be used as a decoy in the running game to keep the Chargers off balance, he should also be used as a decoy to get the passing game unearthed.


The Ravens rank dead last in the league in passing offense due in large part to Kyle Boller's inconsistencies throwing the ball down the field. Boller has been woefully inaccurate against both the Browns and Steelers, even though he has generally made the right reads in both games.


Using play-action to set up big plays down the field is definitely something the Ravens will explore, especially because San Diego uses a base man-to-man coverage scheme. However, the Ravens can also use play-action to gain yardage in the intermediate area, where Boller's passes should be easier to complete.


Using bootleg plays would be the best way to go in this game, because the Chargers front seven will stack the box heavily either on the left side of the line or up the gut. If Boller is able to execute his fake handoffs properly, the Chargers' defensive front will come up field to stop Lewis, allowing Boller to roam free off the right side of the field, where he would only have to make two reads—one deep and one short. If neither option is there in the passing game, Boller has the ability to tuck the ball in and gain some yardage.


Given Boller's shaky pocket presence and his propensity to hold the ball too long, he should be a lot more comfortable throwing on the run, where he can control his actions a little better.  


Defensive Keys to Victory

1. Stopping the Run: Stopping Thomlinson is easily the No.1 objective in this ball game. If the Pro-Bowl tailback is able to get his game back on track, the Chargers offense will be able to move the ball against Baltimore's defense.


The key to holding down the Chargers running game is to force Tomlinson to run the ball off the edge. When Tomlinson is at his best, he cuts back against the grain and is in position to choose one or two holes to run through. The Ravens' linebackers have to be able to fill the gaps, although they can't be too aggressive. The defensive line will also have to do a good job of standing their man up, allowing them to put a hand on Tomlinson before he runs through the hole.


2. Doubling Boston: Although Boston has had a tough start to the season; he's more than capable of dominating the Ravens' secondary. He has done it before while with the Cardinals.


That is why it makes no sense to even give this eccentric wideout a chance to make plays in the passing game. The Ravens should double team Boston at all times when he runs his deep routes. The team should have their corners providing a small cushion, forcing Boston to run his routes in the middle of the field or underneath for six to seven yard gains.


The key is to keep Boston's average yards per catch down, forcing the other wideouts on San Diego to make plays. Both Eric Parker and Tim Dwight have homerun hitting speed, but aren't that strong and have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. By using press coverage against both players, the Ravens' secondary may be able to throw off the timing of their routes.


3. Batting down Some Passes: The Ravens pass rush has been sporadic over the first two games, but if they are able to force the Chargers into a shootout, there should be some opportunities for getting pressure on Brees. However, it's more likely that San Diego will stay in the game the entire time.


If the Ravens' defensive line has trouble pushing the pocket, the ends need to stay at home and bat down Brees' passes. While Brees has a decent over the top delivery, the trajectory on his passes may come out lower at times because he is only 6'2. If the Ravens are able to keep him boxed in the pocket, there could be some opportunities to keep his passes from getting into his receivers' hands.


Key One-on-One Battle to Watch: Lorenzo Neal versus Ray Lewis/Edgerton Hartwell


There could be some monstrous collisions in this game, and you should expect Lorenzo Neal, one of top isolation blockers in the NFL, to be at the center of these crashes. Neal is tough to handle because he keeps a low base, knows his assignments inside and out and is physical at the point of impact.


Meanwhile, both Lewis and Hartwell are aiming to shoot the gaps in order to stop the run past the line of scrimmage. Whoever wins these matchups inside of the tackle box will have the decided edge in this game.

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