The Ravens Defense thoroughly dominated the Chargers Offense in Week 16, holding them to just 198 total yards and 10 points. Baltimore defenders flew around the field aggressively and consistently rallied to the ball, as they have all season. Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale also threw a ton at the Chargers Offense, as he generally likes to do. But the biggest reason for Baltimore’s success was their ability to generate inside pass-rush pressure.
The Ravens ensured that Philip Rivers would not have a lot of time to work through his reads and push the ball downfield. One of Rivers’ best attributes as a quarterback is that he can throw from tight spaces within the pocket with bodies around him. It’s tough to do that when the pocket is pushed from the middle. The Ravens were able to both win their 1-on-1 matchups against the Chargers’ interior line, and manufacture inside pressure.
You can see how they did this on the below sack. Here, the Chargers’ offensive line was responsible for Baltimore’s four defensive linemen and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Running Back Melvin Gordon was responsible for linebacker Patrick Onwuasor.
The Chargers chose to match up this way because they wanted their offensive linemen to handle the Ravens defensive line (big on big) and C.J. Mosley. Onwuasor is a safety in linebacker’s clothing. He’s listed at 227 lbs. They preferred to have their running back responsible for Onwuasor instead of wasting an offensive lineman on him.
The Ravens knew this, so the pressure they designed called for Onwuasor to attack the right guard, effectively blocking him, and for defensive end Brent Urban to loop around Onwuasor.
This left Urban (6’7”, 300 lbs) on Melvin Gordon (6’1”, 215 lbs).
That’s a significant mismatch.
Baltimore brought these types of pressure schemes often. Between the ability of their pass rush to win inside and their secondary to disguise the coverage behind it, Philip Rivers did not have the time to read the defense post-snap, work through his progressions, or anticipate throws downfield. The Chargers are among the league leaders in 20+ yard plays on offense. They had none against the Ravens.
Aside from what the Ravens were doing to them, the Chargers didn’t really help themselves out. They had three 3rd-down conversions wiped out due to penalties. Several times, they committed penalties that set up 2nd-and-long situations. A significant part of this was that the relentless play of the defensive line forced some holding penalties.
We loved Martindale’s approach after the Chargers found themselves in 2nd-and-longs, though. Many defenses play it safe and allow the offense to pick up easy yardage in these situations. The Ravens went into attack mode. They did not want Rivers to have time to push the ball downfield or set up 3rd-and-manageable situations. They brought pressure on these 2nd-and-longs, forcing negative plays or minuscule gains. The sack we showed above, for instance, came on 2nd-and-16.
The Chargers couldn’t get enough going on the ground to neutralize Baltimore’s pressure schemes. They committed two costly turnovers and had drives thwarted by penalties or sacks. If these two teams meet again (which they are currently aligned to do in the Wild Card round), the Chargers Offense will need to play a cleaner game and be better prepared for Baltimore’s approach.
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