Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ravens Week 2 Preview

(please forgive the lack of player profile links today, I am trying to get this done before dinner and have a limited amount of time)

Here we are at Week 2 of the NFL season, and already we have Game of the Year potential here. The Ravens are travelling to San Diego to face the Chargers, and both teams are considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and if it comes down to it, this game could help decide home field advantage in a playoff game.

The Chargers have a good defense. But it is hurting right now. Not only did they lose Defensive Tackle Jamal Williams, they also lost Defensive End Travis Johnson. Add to that the fact that they gave up 366 yards to the Oakland Raiders last week (and it is a safe bet to say that the Ravens' offense is at least as potent if not more potent that the Raiders' offense). Among those 366 yards were 148 rushing yards, and when you look at the Ravens' backfield of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and LeRon McClain, it is easy to see the same kind of numbers (or more, since the Ravens' offensive line is young and lie most young lines is more adept at run blocking than pass blocking. When run blocking you make a hole and then move down the field to find someone else to block, while in pass blocking you are usually more responsible for a zone block and have to stay within a certain area until after the ball is thrown or else you are called for a penalty for being ineligible man down field, since lineman cannot catch a pass unless they declare themselves eligible to the referee before the play - if you are confused, look HERE for a more detailed explanation). It is easier to run block because you can just get nasty and bull rush someone to the turf. Run blocking takes a bit of a nasty streak in you to do it right, and the young bucks on the Ravens' line have that in spades. Speaking as a former offensive lineman, run blocking is fun. Pass blocking is boring. Look for the Ravens to give the Chargers a heavy dose of running the ball, mostly between the tackles, with a good bit of play action in order to keep the defense from putting 8 men in the box every play.

On the other side, the Chargers have a good quarterback in Phillip Rivers, and usually have one of the best running backs (if not of all time, at least of the last 20-25 years) in LaDanian Tomlinson. However, Tomlinson is out after he rolled / sprained his ankle against the Raiders last week. The Chargers will respond by using Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett. Sproles is the kind of small, shifty RB that can give the Ravens fits, but the Ravens' defense is a lot quicker (especially in the secondary) than in the past, and the Chargers are probably going to be loathe to expose him to too much, especially with how much they rely on him in the return game. Bennett is probably not going to give the Ravens too much trouble. But once again you also have to look at the line play. The Ravens defensive line did not get too much pressure on the Chiefs, and that is going to have to change this week, because Phillip Rivers is no Brodie Croyle (and for Rivers, that is a good thing). But the Chargers are also going to be without Center Nick Hardwick and Guard Louis Vasquez (I do not know if he plays on the left or right side of the line). Having to potentially replace 40% of your line is difficult. Having two players right next to each other out at the same time is problematic. Having to replace the center is difficult, because the QB / C relationship is vital. It starts every offensive play. I am expecting the Ravens to try to blow up the A gaps and get penetration in the middle, forcing the Chargers to have to run the ball to the outside, extending the play laterally and allowing the quickness of the Ravens' defense to make plays in space. Also, Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback, but he is not the most mobile quarterback. If the Ravens can collapse the pocket and force him to roll out he becomes more of a liablilty. The big question is if the Ravens can stop Tight End Antonio Gates and Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson. Gates is one of the top tight ends in the game today. One of those players who is too big for a cornerback to cover him, and too fast for a linebacker to cover him (although the Ravens linebackers might just be up to the task, as they are one of the fastest linebacker corps in the league).

Special teams are going to be a concern, with the aforementioned Darren Sproles being one of the better return guys in the league right now and the Ravens' return games not being all that impressive last week. I do expect better blocking on punts, since I cannot imagine John Harbaugh (and his special teams coaching background) allowing that kind of sloppy play to stand.

But even with that, I think the Ravens come out of San Diego 2-0 and ready to host Cleveland for Week 3. Final score...

Ravens 24
Chargers 20


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