Three Factors That Should Keep The Ravens On Equal Footing With The Chargers
As the Ravens head into their playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers as 2.5-point favorites, I want to explore some reasons that I think some may underrate Baltimore’s chances of winning this game.
1 — Lamar Jackson versus this Chargers defense is a best-case scenario for the Ravens
At this point of Lamar Jackson’s development, he has some clear flaws. But his two best areas as a passer have been throwing against zone, and evading pressure. Those are the two pillars in which Los Angeles’ defense is built on.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the Chargers are one of the heaviest zone coverage teams in the NFL, running zone 56 percent of the time through Week 16’s games. Meanwhile, Jackson has a marked difference in his success rate against zone coverage. Jackson averages 8.62 yards per attempt against zone, and 4.83 yards per attempt against man coverage.
Los Angeles as a defense is built on pass rush. Joey Bosa’s return has only bolstered this. But as you have seen several times, Jackson’s ability to win late in the down mitigates a lot of the threat that the Ravens will feel, because he can buy time with his feet and reset late in the down.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
2 — Los Angeles’ offense faded as the season wore on
The Chargers finished the season with a 20.8% DVOA, third-best in the NFL. But over their last seven games, that DVOA was just 12.1%, and over their last four, it was -5.2%. Melvin Gordon’s injuries surely played a part in this, as he was one of the premiere tackle-breaking runners in the NFL. But there’s been something to the theory that, Tom Brady’s run last year notwithstanding, older quarterbacks tend to play worse as the season wears on.
Ravens fans are surely aware of how lost they were able to make Philip Rivers look in Week 16. But even beyond that, the Chargers did not exactly light up Denver, Kansas City, or Cincinnati. Especially relative to what they normally do.
3 — Rivers is going against one of the most man-heavy teams in the NFL
Just as Jackson is benefited by the zone versus man conundrum for the Ravens, Baltimore benefits from playing man-to-man more often against a quarterback who is better against zone. Rivers averaged 9.55 yards per attempt against zone coverages, as compared to 7.27 against man-to-man. The Ravens, again per SIS, are primarily a man-coverage team, going with that 47 percent of the time — tied for the seventh-highest man-coverage rate in the NFL.
And, as we all saw last time these two teams faced off, Los Angeles wasn’t able to do much about Marlon Humphrey on Keenan Allen. Brandon Carr was able to be more physical than Mike Williams.
Hunter Henry’s return is a big wild card — that’s somebody the Ravens don’t have an easy answer for in man-to-man coverage. But otherwise, Baltimore is in good shape to defend what the Chargers do best.
Rivers McCown is a writer and editor who has written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and Deadspin, among other places. He’s edited for Football Outsiders, Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue.