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Schwartz: What to Expect in Chargers-Ravens and How I’m Betting It

Schwartz: What to Expect in Chargers-Ravens and How I’m Betting It article feature image

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Lamar Jackson, Joey Bosa

  • Alright, folks. The NFL playoffs are here, and I'm kicking the things off with Chargers-Ravens.
  • I breakdown what to expect in this rematch of Baltimore's Week 16 win in Los Angeles and make my pick.

Betting Odds: Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens

  • Spread: Ravens -3
  • Over/Under: 41.5
  • Time: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

>> Odds as of Friday night. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NFL odds and track your bets.

There are two types of rematches in the NFL. We know them well.

Divisional teams meet twice a season and could meet for a third time in the playoffs, like the Colts and Texans. These teams know one another well. There’s no “surprising” the other with massive scheme adjustments. There can be slight adjustments, but it’s mostly lining up and beating the man in front of you.

The second type of rematch is what we’ll see in Baltimore: Non-divisional rematches.

With NFL scheduling, teams could go up to four seasons without seeing a non-divisional opponent. For example, the Ravens and Chargers met four times in five seasons between 2011 and 2015, then didn’t meet again until a few weeks ago. So even though these teams are in the same conference, they usually aren’t very familiar with one another until, of course, they play.

When non-divisional teams meet in a rematch, like the Ravens and Chargers will do on Sunday, I tend to favor the loser of the previous matchup for many reasons.

We know when teams take on unfamiliar opponents, they scheme game plans they assume will work. And if one does work, it stands to figure that in the rematch, teams would again run close to that same game plan.

Why would you change what works?

The Chargers are 10th in passing yards per game, fifth in passing yards per play, sixth in points per game and third in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA. But against the Ravens, who rank third in defensive DVOA, the Chargers’ pass game was totally shut down.

The Chargers scored only 10 points and finished with just 198 yards on 57 plays. It wasn’t a great performance, and credit the Ravens defense — Baltimore rushed Los Angeles extremely well (it doesn’t help that the Chargers have poor pass-protecting linemen) and played tight man coverage.

One of the prudent ways the Ravens attacked the Chargers’ pass protection was forcing the running back into tough assignments on linebackers:

In their first matchup, the Ravens defense attacked the Chargers running back in pass protection. I detail how they did it and why I think the Chargers can adjust this weekend. If Rivers is given time, the Chargers can move the ball.

— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 3, 2019

It was one of the major reasons Philip Rivers struggled to get rid of the ball quickly. The Ravens rushed the back and played tight man coverage, which works when there’s a pass rush. But defenders can only play tight coverage for so long, and now that the Chargers know the plan, they can also use more man coverage beaters like crossing routes, mesh routes and switch routes.

For one, they can slide toward the back in pass protection. It’s something I highlighted in the video above. Most pass protection schemes are set to where the line slides away from the back, which allows a defense to rush the running back and also twist upfront with the defensive linemen because the guard and tackle are man protecting.

One of my favorite ways to counter a great pass rush and secondary is going empty. In empty, the offense has five receivers lined up wide. That does multiple things: 1) It defines the coverage; 2) it slows down the pass rush, because ideally the ball needs to be out early in empty; and 3) defenses can’t bring pressure, or can’t rush the running back because he’s not in the backfield.

If defenses want to bring pressure, it’s very defined.

This doesn’t mean that the Chargers will automatically have success, but they can set themselves up better because they know how the Ravens will want to defend them.

The Ravens’ offensive game plan has also been the same for two months now, and it’s not going to change on Sunday. They want to run the ball first, second and third. Fourth, they take a play action shot off the run action. That’s the team they want to be.

There has been lots of focus on the Baltimore offense this week, and I understand why. The Ravens are new and fancy. But they haven’t played too well lately.

Over the final three weeks of the regular season, the Ravens scored 20 points against the Buccaneers, 16 against the Chargers and 26 against the Browns — and 20 of those 26 points against Cleveland came on their first four drives.

The Ravens have been rather miserable in the red zone, too, scoring touchdowns on only 10 of their 23 chances since Lamar Jackson took over for Joe Flacco. They’ve scored points on drives into the red zone only 84% of the time since Week 11 and are 28th in average points per red-zone trip over that span.

The Ravens offense simply isn’t as potent as most would like you to believe.

Their red-zone issues aren’t that surprising. The red zone is a unique spot on the field because the area of play condenses. You have only 30 yards to work, an as low as 27 or 28 if you want room in the back of the end zone. It forces more accuracy from the quarterback. And accuracy isn’t something Jackson does well. Safeties can play lower in the box, too, so it’s tougher to run the ball.

It’s remarkable that the Ravens have continued to win games without scoring touchdowns. But that could end this weekend.

So give me Chargers +3. Add in the fact that they’ve played so well on the road this season — winning in Pittsburgh, Seattle and Kansas City — and I think we are in for an upset.

THE PICK: Chargers +3

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