The Chargers Defense was physically overwhelmed with power runs by the Ravens in Week 16. They lost up front on the line of scrimmage. This left the dime personnel package (6 defensive backs) they have used all season vulnerable defending the run at the second level. We thought Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley might decide to play with bigger personnel in Sunday’s rematch. Boy were we wrong.
Bradley doubled down on his approach, utilizing quarters personnel (7 defensive backs) on almost every single snap. And you know what? It worked. Getting the extra speed on the field was a major factor in helping L.A. shut down Baltimore’s offense, serving as a reminder that there is a reason Gus Bradley is an NFL coach, and we are not.
Instead of fighting power with power, L.A. used a speedy and slashing style of play that disrupted the Raven’s running game. You can see what we mean on the play below.
This was a 3rd-and-2, and the Ravens were running a power to the right side. The Chargers had defensive end Melvin Ingram (#54) slant inside with the two safeties above him scraping over the top. The pulling guard looked like he was expecting to throw a kickout block on Ingram who would be waiting outside as the edge defender. Ingram slanting inside caught him off guard, took him inside behind the line of scrimmage, kept him from creating a running lane with his block, and created congestion where the run was designed. The two safeties scraping over top of Ingram were allowed to use their speed to avoid blockers and quickly fill at the line of scrimmage.
The Ravens’ vaunted rushing attack managed just 90 yards on 23 carries Sunday, a season low with Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
The Chargers also game-planned to beat the Ravens’ offensive line with speed in their pass rush. In obvious passing situations, the Chargers went with fast pass rushers across their front-four. Check out L.A.’s personnel on the below 3rd-and-11 sack.
That’s two defensive ends aligned inside. The alignment of Rochell between the right guard and center, as well as linebacker Uchenna Nwosu on the outside shoulder of the left tackle ensured defensive end Joey Bosa would have a 1-on-1 matchup with left guard James Hurst. A pass rusher like Bosa in a 1-on-1 against just about any guard in the NFL is a mismatch.
If you take another look, you’ll notice that Nwosu (#42) was conscious of not rushing too far upfield. He didn’t want to give Jackson any escape lanes.
On this next play, the Chargers put both Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa inside on another 3rd-and-11.
Focus on Ingram to the left. He used Dwight Freeney’s patented spin move to get quick inside pressure on Jackson.
Again, notice how the defensive ends did not rush too far upfield.
And just in case you didn’t believe us that this was a conscious approach by the Chargers, take one more look here at Melvin Ingram (on the right side) again getting matched inside on the left guard. This time, it was Bradley Bozeman at left guard. Didn’t matter. Different player, same result.
Getting the extra speed on the field also helped the Chargers in coverage. Having three defensive backs in places were linebackers would traditionally be leads to better movement, route recognition, and coverage in general. In this contest, it also helped combat some of the big-play ability Lamar Jackson has with his legs.
Lamar Jackson certainly had his work cut out for him in this one. The Chargers had the speed on the field to match his athleticism, and he did not have his A-game at all. We’ve spoken about this before, but despite Jackson’s running and throwing talent, he still has obvious deficiencies as a passer. He is a one-read and go quarterback at this point. His first instinct is to run when he moves, not to buy time and find receivers downfield. His mechanics are inconsistent, and therefore, so is his accuracy.
Jackson was clearly juiced up for his first career playoff start, and that’s normal. But he was not seeing the defense (despite the fact that L.A. played very straight forward coverage), and he was misfiring high consistently.
No quarterback is completely void of nerves at the beginning of a football game. But it’s the quarterbacks that have consistent and easily replicable mechanics that are more able to overcome those nerves. Tom Brady isn’t great in big games because he has “it” or because he’s “just a winner, man.” He is great because he is consistent. One big reason for that is his mechanics are so sound, easily replicable, and well-rehearsed that they are ingrained in his muscle memory. They take over in moments when emotions are running high. Jackson’s poor mechanics were accentuated by his nerves on Sunday, and he was erratic for most of the afternoon as a result.
Speaking of Tom Brady, the Chargers Defense matches up well with the Patriots. They have a serious chance of being the first team to beat the Patriots in Foxborough in the playoffs since the Ravens did so in the 2012 AFC Championship Game. But it won’t happen if they make the mistakes they made down the stretch against the Ravens.
Baltimore had no business having the ball with a chance to win the game in the final minute. Part of that was on the Chargers’ passive approach on offense, but the defense made too many situational mistakes in the 4th quarter as well. In fact, they made some of the same mistakes we saw Jacksonville commit in the 4th quarter of last year’s AFC Championship Game. That won’t get it done in New England.
We’ll have more on this matchup later in the week in our Chargers-Patriots preview.
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