Its the Week 15 Ravens Preview Time. However, before we get into decomposing Sunday night’s game, lets give thanks for the balance of the Harbaugh-led Ravens. Since 2000, the Ravens have only posted an above average offense and an above average defense according to NFL Advanced Stats only three times: 2009, 2010 and 2011. The best offensive team during those years was in 2009 and the best defensive team the Ravens have had in those three years is this 2011 team. The graph above shows the elite defenses the Ravens have had since 2000 (best over that time period in the NFL) and the balance of the last three Harbaugh-led teams.
Preview of Ravens vs. Chargers after the jump.
With this year’s team fully appreciated lets take a gander back through history at the San Diego Chargers. The only time the Harbaugh led Ravens have matched up with Norv Turner’s Chargers was in 2009. The game itself was incredibly exciting and fun to watch and ended with Ray Lewis stuffing Darren Sproles on 4th down to seal a Ravens victory. Despite the fact that Sproles now plays for the Saints and Lewis has missed the past 4 games due to turf toe, I’d expect another nail biter. Why? The game on Sunday night will feature two fairly evenly matched units: The Chargers Offense vs The Ravens Defense.
- One key matchup is Baltimore’s pass rush vs. San Diego’s pass protection. The San Diego Chargers have shown two weeks in a row that they can put up points when Philip Rivers has time to throw. Whether or not he’ll have that time, with Jared Gaither taking on Terrell Suggs, will be the biggest factor in determining if the Chargers offense falls flat or soars. In 2010, his final year in Baltimore, Gaither arrived at training camp nearly 30 pounds lighter than expected. After a couple of months of inactivity, Gaither, was put on injured reserve with a back injury. The offensive tackle signed with the Kansas City Chiefs after the NFL lockout, was released by the Chiefs last month and picked up off the waiver wire by the Chargers.
- As we alluded to in the first bullet point, Phillip Rivers is really good when he has time to throw. Last week against the Bills less than stellar pass rush Rivers started the game 9-for-9 for 78 yards, one touchdown and five other first downs. Similarly, Rivers ended the game 10-for-11 for 120 yards, two touchdowns, five other first downs, and nine successful plays. While the middle was a bit messier, Rivers bookended Week 14 with impressive numbers. In three career games against Baltimore, Rivers has averaged 277 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Getting pressure on Rivers this week is a must for the Ravens.
- While the Ravens run defense has not matched the level of the team’s pass rush, the unit has still been excellent this year. According to NFL Advanced Stats the Baltimore Run Defense ranks #5 behind Chicago, Jacksonville, Jets and San Francisco. However, Ryan Mathews and the Chargers blockers present a formidable challenge. Last week Mathews was stuffed for a loss just once in 20 carries, and he had four first downs on the ground, including gains of 10, 16, and 37 yards. He also caught all six of the passes thrown his way, and while they only gained 34 yards, three went for first downs, and one was a 7-yard gain on second-and-9.
- Ultimately, the Ravens are a slight favorite against the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday night. Gambling outlets give them a 59% chance to win the game while NFL Advanced Stats sees an even tighter matchup only giving the Ravens a 55% chance of winning.