If you haven’t noticed, beating the Kansas City Chiefs doesn’t guarantee the Chargers the first seed in the playoffs. While the Chiefs also need to lose a game, the Chargers just need to focus on winning out in two games against tough teams.
In every game, some matchups and player performances prove to be critical to the outcome of the game. While some are unpredictable, such as the necessary emergence of Mike Williams to replace Keenan Allen after his injury against the Chiefs, others are more foreseeable such as the requirement for a running back to step up and replace the production of Melvin Gordon against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is an attempt to guess who may be critical to a win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Chargers offensive lineThe Ravens’ defense has been terrorizing opposing offenses with nearly 3 sacks per game. Perhaps even more importantly, the Ravens are third in the NFL in both rush yards allowed and passing yards allowed per game, per NFL team stats.
While the Chargers’ offensive line has been effective against the pass rush, their run blocking leaves a bit to be desired, as the backs have had to shoulder most of the load this season. The line’s ability to keep Philip Rivers upright and provide at least a couple of yards before contact for whoever the backs will be this week will prove crucial to overcoming a stifling Ravens defense.
Virgil GreenOne weakness on the Ravens’ defense is covering athletic tight ends. The duo at weak-side linebacker of Patrick Unwuasor and Kenny Young is a weakness for the unit due to their inexperience.
Unfortunately, one weakness of the Chargers has been the tight end group. Without Hunter Henry (who could still return), Antonio Gates has been great at stepping up in times of need, but he should get rest for the hopefully long playoff road ahead.
Although Virgil Green was brought in for his blocking, he has been used several times in the passing game at moderate depths, averaging over 10 yards per catch. An appearance of his hands again could really go a long way toward attacking the Ravens’ defense.
Damion SquareAs the nose tackle with the highest snap count for the Chargers this season (with Brandon Mebane rightfully elsewhere), Damion Square will be responsible for stopping runs up the middle.
At some point, his run-stopping ability is going to be needed in a short-yardage situation. With our smaller linebackers, Square will have to step up in this game.
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Desmond KingWhen you saw Desmond King’s name, you probably thought about his interceptions, pass deflections, and return ability. While those qualities will certainly be helpful in this game, his tackling abilities will be put to the test more here.
Lamar Jackson has run a record 67 times in his first four starts and has no plans to limit his rushing. As you would guess, most of these runs aren’t up the middle.
King and the cornerbacks will need to be able to wrap up Jackson, or at least contain him until the slower linebackers or do-it-all safety (no, I’m not talking about Jahleel Addae) arrive.
While the Chargers are certainly capable of winning without all of these players showing up (and may have to with the tight end group), these players can play a key role in delivering a win to the Chargers.
Let’s hope they get us a win this Saturday night!