Thoughts On Rivers & Weddle
383 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 113.5 QBR. 301 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 126.1 QBR. These are the notable statistics for Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Phillip Rivers in the past two meetings versus the Baltimore Ravens. With the recent play of Phillip Rivers, paired with his historical success during the month of December, the Ravens defense faces a very tall order Saturday night. With their playoff hopes, as well as the jobs of numerous Ravens coaches on the line, Wink Martindale and his top-ranked defense must find creative ways to stop the red-hot Chargers offense; and that starts with limiting the passing abilities of Rivers. In winning 10 out of their past 11 games, the LA offense is presumably operating with great confidence. To slow the Chargers explosive aerial attack, the Ravens defense will need the recently maligned (and former Charger) Eric Weddle to play a key role.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Weddle, and Rivers were teammates from ’07 until the Safety signed with Baltimore before the 2016 season. The duo have documented a close friendship . In 2015, during the offseason, both players coached the Poway Chargers, a youth flag football team for which both of their sons played. The familial bonds between the Rivers and Weddle family grew much closer, which made Weddle’s departure from the San Diego Chargers even more bittersweet. Despite the most recent Pro Bowl selection, there is a growing chorus of questions of Weddle’s production in the Ravens Secondary. With the end of his contract approaching (he is under contract through ’19), the soon-to-be 34 year old has a limited remaining playing window. Despite a decorated career, he’s never been part of a team which has had much post-season success. He’s obviously yet to reach the playoffs as a Raven, and the Chargers post-season failures during his tenure there are well documented.
Some of the same can be said for Rivers. Rivers is still playing at an exceptional level, but at age 37, there are limited years left for the QB. Rivers has accomplished a lot between the lines, but the lack of post-season success comes up early whenever the future Hall of Famer is discussed. The direction towards eventual retirement certainly looms, but Rivers masterful play this year has propelled the Chargers to their best season in years. At this point in his career, the success (fairly or unfairly) of this season for Rivers will be defined by the playoffs. It does appear that expectations of a Super Bowl run are realistic. A dominant regular season will seem unfulfilling if the Chargers flame out early in January.
The Ravens, after falling short of the playoffs the past three years, are aware of this game’s implications. Traveling West to play a team which has won 10 of 11 is a tall order. Made tougher with it being a short-week for Baltimore, and the Chargers having had additional time to prepare. Every viable scenario of the Ravens ending their post-season drought requires them to leave LA with the W.
What the Ravens have Saturday night is opportunity. For an aging veteran like Weddle, there are only so many opportunities left. In a game of such high implications for Baltimore, having Weddle’s experience and intricate knowledge of Rivers could prove the difference. Teammates for 9 years, who could possible know the various reads and tendencies of Rivers better? Weddle’s knowledge is a potential advantage.
Conversely, we must acknowledge the inverse though – ie that Rivers is well aware of Weddle. Most importantly,with any mental insights Weddle brings to this game, does he have enough left physically to make life uncomfortable for this friend?
The Ravens defense should look to continue to use their deceptive reads to hopefully create confusion within the Chargers offense. Pressuring the Chargers offensive line by unleashing exotic blitzes from the line of scrimmage will play a key role in throwing off the rhythm of Rivers, who is extremely difficult to stop when comfortable and unhurried. A quarterback like Rivers thrives when having time to sit back in the pocket and pick apart defenses with chunk plays and dump-offs. Expect to see a chess match between Rivers and Weddle, pre-snap at the line of scrimmage where Weddle will either look to blitz or get back into coverage.
The collaboration between primary play-caller C.J. Mosely and Weddle will be essential. With the probable return of Chargers star running back Melvin Gordon, successfully predicting both run and pass plays will limit the Chargers ability to tire out the defense, control the flow of the game, and make big plays we’ve so frequently seen from the high-octane offense this season. Predicting the run and stopping Gordon for minimal yardage will make the Chargers offense one-dimensional by needing to rely on the arm of Rivers. By marginalizing the Chargers offense, more opportunities are created for turnovers, which the Ravens have struggled to produce this year. With the mistake-prone tendencies of Lamar Jackson, the Ravens must avoid falling behind in this game, which means the defense must capitalize on potential turnover opportunities. Properly reading Rivers in key moments of the game will create stops and give rookie, Jackson and the Ravens offense an opportunity to control the clock and put points on the board.
Based on the great competitiveness of both teams (and importance for Baltimore), I would not be surprised to see this game still in the balance in the late 4th Quarter. Despite the top ranked status of the Ravens defense, late game collapses, which have occurred on multiple occasions this year, must be avoided. When Rivers and the Chargers make plays, Weddle must lead the Ravens defense and maintain positive morale so late game breakdowns – like what we saw two weeks ago in Kansas City where two 4th downs were converted by the Chiefs late in the game – can turn into late game triumphs. Blowing 4th quarter leads in past years, especially late in the season, has either hindered or eliminated playoff hopes for the Ravens. The Ravens defense must remain composed throughout the entire game and buckle down late. You would like to hope Weddle’s veteran presence will make a difference this time around.
That being said, on three separate occasions, two in the last three weeks, Rivers has led the Chargers to victory by coming from behind against two very formidable teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. This year, Rivers has had a 4th quarter QBR of 104.1 and a QBR of 107 when within 7 points in the 4th. To go along with the efficient QBR in the 4th quarter, Rivers has a higher QBR when playing from behind in all facets of the game. These numbers come to show that if the Ravens happen to be in the lead come crunch time, the defense must be disciplined, aggressive, and deceptive, which starts with the play calling of Weddle paired with Mosely.
Saturday night primetime with playoff hopes on the line brings great excitement for Ravens fans as well as the players. With painful memories looming such as last year’s Tyler Boyd disaster along with the miracle Tyreek Hill catch only weeks ago, fans can expect the Ravens defense to come out disciplined and aggressive, leaving no room for error against Rivers and the high-powered Chargers offense. Something tells me that this game will come down to a play or two, as Ravens games so often do, where both Weddle and Rivers will be involved. Weddle is not the Ravens best defensive player, but to me this is a game where he needs to lead. Weddle reaching the Pro Bowl for the 3rd year in a row (and 6th time in his career) raised eyebrows from many in the Ravens fanbase. Coming up with a decisive play or two tomorrow night would add credence to the selection.
Can Rivers solidify his Chargers team as Super Bowl contenders by continuing their stretch of dominance by overcoming the Ravens? Can Weddle prove that these “ain’t the same Ravens?” Will Baltimore get an early Christmas present from our favorite team?
Questions and opportunities await.