The Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-20, but lost tight end Mark Andrews, likely for the season. The Chargers left Green Bay as a team in crisis after losing 23-20 to the Packers. Who will have the edge Sunday night?
Ravens passing game vs. Chargers pass defense
Lamar Jackson added to his Most Valuable Player case, throwing for 264 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals despite hurting his ankle in the first half. Jackson just missed on a pair of deep shots before connecting with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for a 51-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Jackson did a good job managing pressure, either using his scrambling gift to extend plays or stepping up in the pocket to find his receivers in stride. Beckham, Zay Flowers and Nelson Agholor helped him out with impressive runs after catches.
Jackson will need his wide receivers to continue their upward trajectory because he won’t be able to fall back on Andrews, the one pass catcher with whom he’s always had a neural link. The Ravens will turn to second-year tight end Isaiah Likely (nine catches on 12 targets, 89 yards), whose breakout games last season came in Andrews’ absence, but there’s no replacing Andrews’ dependability on third down and in the red zone.
Jackson took three sacks against the Bengals as Patrick Mekari, filling in for injured left tackle Ronnie Stanley, struggled early with Trey Hendrickson’s quickness off the edge. The Chargers’ Joey Bosa would have prevented a similar challenge this week for either Mekari or Stanley, but he injured his foot against the Packers. The Ravens benefited from the return of right tackle Morgan Moses, who’d missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury.
The Chargers rank last in pass defense, allowing opponents 6.9 yards per attempt. Even Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love, who has struggled all season, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns against them. The Chargers have plenty of star power in Bosa, linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Derwin James Jr. and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., but coach Brandon Staley, who calls the defense, has faced mounting criticism for the way he uses those pieces. The Chargers blitz on just 23% of dropbacks and have struggled to cover the middle of the field, Jackson’s favorite strike zone. The 32-year-old Mack (11 sacks, 12 quarterback hits) is their most productive pass rusher. Samuel has two interceptions and seven passes defended.
Chargers passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Justin Herbert (2,609 yards, 19 touchdowns, five interceptions) is one of the most gifted passers in the league but has started to face questions about his 29-30 career record as a starter. For all his arm strength, Herbert ranks middle of the pack in air yards per attempt and completion. He trails Jackson in completion percentage and yards per attempt. That said, the Chargers’ passing offense is their strength. They rank ninth in the league in converting third downs and second in converting red zone trips to touchdowns. Wide receiver Keenan Allen (83 catches on 113 targets, 1011 yards, seven touchdowns) remains impossible to cover at age 31. The Chargers miss injured wide receiver Mike Williams as a big-play target. Rookie first-round pick Quentin Johnston (20 catches on 34 targets, 183 yards) has not been the answer. Beyond relying on Allen as his clear No. 1 target, Herbert spreads the ball around. His offensive line, led by third-year left tackle Rashawn Slater, has done a solid job protecting him.
The Chargers will have their hands full with a Ravens pass rush that leads the league in sacks after adding five more against the Bengals. Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh led the charge with a career-high seven pressures, continuing his run of excellent play over the past five games. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike extended his sack streak to eight games and needs just a half-sack more to become the first Raven since Terrell Suggs in 2017 to hit double figures for a season. Even without injured star cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens shut down Bengals superstar Ja’Marr Chase, who caught two passes on seven targets for 12 yards. Cornerback Brandon Stephens continued his breakout season. Safety Marcus Williams played far better after struggling the previous week in his first game back from a hamstring injury. Safety Kyle Hamilton, tied for the team lead with eight passes defended, appears pointed toward the Pro Bowl in his second season. The Bengals did effectively pick on linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen with quick throws to their tight ends and running back Joe Mixon. That will be an area to watch against Herbert, whom the Ravens held to 22-of-39 passing for 195 yards in their only previous meeting.
Ravens running game vs. Chargers run defense
The Ravens struggled to run in the first half against Cincinnati but controlled the second half with their ground game as coordinator Todd Monken unleashed a nifty mix of designs for powerful veteran Gus Edwards (team-high 564 yards and 10 touchdowns) and fleet rookie Keaton Mitchell (10.3 yards per carry). Edwards and Mitchell both cut back to break double-digit gains out of spread looks. Edwards’ vision and power near the goal line have been essential for an offense that has scored touchdowns on 65.2% of its red zone trips. Jackson also carried nine times for 54 yards against the Bengals despite his tender ankle. The Ravens lead the league in rushing and rank second in yards per attempt.
The Chargers had gone five straight games without allowing 100 yards rushing before they gave up 200 in a Nov. 12 loss to the Detroit Lions. But they rank just 26th in DVOA against the run, suggesting they have not been as efficient in context as the raw numbers suggest. They lack a dominant defensive lineman to plug the middle, and linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., second on the team in defensive snaps, has graded poorly against the run, according to Pro Football Focus. Their edge defenders, led by Mack, have been much better.
Chargers running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Chargers are not as potent on the ground as through the air, averaging 4.1 yards per carry with veteran Austin Ekeler (396 yards, four touchdowns in seven games) as their lead ball carrier and Joshua Kelley as his backup. They did rush for 150 yards against the Packers, their most productive outing since the fourth week of the season. Herbert was the major reason, carrying eight times for 73 yards. That was uncharacteristic for the 6-foot-6 quarterback, who’s averaging 4.2 yards per carry and had not rushed for more than 27 yards in any previous game this season.
The Bengals found success running Mixon right at the Ravens, taking advantage of subpar games from interior linemen Michael Pierce and Travis Jones. That after the Ravens gave up a season-worst 178 yards on 36 attempts the previous week against the Cleveland Browns. Though the Ravens have geared their defense to attack quarterbacks and prevent downfield passes, they’re not happy with the 4.3 yards per carry they have allowed, up from 3.9 last season. Smith and Queen remain their top playmakers against the run, with 213 combined tackles.
Ravens special teams vs. Chargers special teams
Justin Tucker made both his field goal attempts against the Bengals to move to 19-for-23 on the season, with all his misses coming from beyond 50 yards. Devin Duvernay hasn’t done much with kickoffs but is still averaging an impressive 13 yards on punt returns. The Ravens still rank just 18th in special teams DVOA thanks to Tucker’s uncharacteristic misses and their lapses in punt coverage early in the season.
The Chargers rank fourth in special teams DVOA thanks to kicker Cameron Dicker, who has made 16 of 17 field goal attempts, and punt returner Derius Davis, who has averaged 15.9 yards with a touchdown.
Ravens intangibles vs. Chargers intangibles
The Ravens added to their strong start with the win over Cincinnati and will benefit from three extra rest days as they make their second western trip of the season. But they lost Andrews, a core figure in their offense and in the locker room. With a difficult December schedule looming and the Cleveland Browns on their heels in the AFC North, they know they can’t let up. They’re 4-1 on the road.
The Chargers, meanwhile, might have played their way out of postseason contention with their loss in Green Bay. Staley and his players expressed mutual frustration in the aftermath, with outside speculation building that the third-year coach might soon be out of a job. Los Angeles is just 2-3 at home.
The Chargers will always be dangerous with Herbert at quarterback and Allen catching his passes. They scored 34 in a loss to the Dolphins and 38 in a loss to the Lions. Their leaky defense, on the other hand, is not equipped to deal with Jackson. The Ravens aren’t the team you want to see when your season is coming apart. Ravens 34, Chargers 24