The Chargers will visit the Ravens on Sunday (1:05 p.m., CBS) for an NFL Wild Card matchup. Here are three keys to the game:
Rushin’ & Raven
Since Lamar Jackson took over as the starting quarterback, the Ravens have averaged 230 rushing yards per game. In that seven-game span, their lowest output was 159 yards against the Chargers, though Baltimore won that game, 22-10, on Dec. 22 in Los Angeles.
Jackson, second on the team with 695 rushing yards, is the catalyst. But Ravens running backs Gus Edwards (718 yards) and Kenneth Dixon (333 yards in six games) have been carrying the load.
The Chargers’ defense, in the past six games, has held opponents to 82 or fewer yards in four of them. The Ravens’ 159 yards is the outlier.
The critics of the job Jackson has done are quick to point out he is a run-first, pass-second player. Critics don’t believe Jackson can win a game passing the ball. In seven starts, he has averaged 12-of-24 passing for 171 yards and fewer than one TD pass per game.
So the plan for Chargers is clear: Make Jackson beat them passing the ball. That will mean containing his run game — whether by utilizing a linebacker or safety as a spy or by outside containment by the front seven. Since 2000, there have been 21 playoff games started by rookie quarterbacks, and those teams are 9-12.
So often in these evenly matched games, a special teams play can be difference. There is a history here: The Chargers have had playoff hopes crushed by untimely gaffes in the kicking game.
The Ravens have arguably the best pair of specialists in the league in kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch. Tucker was 31-of-35 on field goal attempts, and Koch had 8.6 percent of his punts downed inside the 5-yard line — third best in the NFL. The Chargers are on their second kicker of the season, Michael Badgley, who is 15-of-16 on field goals in 10 games.