Sunday Night Football Preview | Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
Week 15 of the NFL season has featured some surprises. For starters, the Green Bay Packers are no long unbeaten. The Kansas City Chiefs, who gave up over 30 points to a mediocre Jets offense a week prior, held the Packers to just 14 points.
The Carolina Panthers also won an unlikely game on the road against the Houston Texans, although Houston may have just been playing at 75% after clinching the AFC South.
Finally, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Tennessee Titans for their first victory of the season after harassing Matt Hasselbeck into turnovers and preventing him from making big plays.
Regardless, we still have two games left on both Sunday and Monday night. The Baltimore Ravens head to Qualcomm Stadium to challenge the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers are on a two game hot streak after a very poor first half to the season. The Ravens share a four game winning streak with the Pittsburgh Steelers and must keep winning to clinch the division. They are tied with the Steelers (who play on Monday Night Football) with a 10-3 record.
Here are five things to watch in Sunday Night Football.
1. Can Philip Rivers Limit His Turnovers?
Rivers has had his fair share of struggles in 2011. He has thrown 17 interceptions in 13 games, and lost five fumbles. 22 turnovers from your quarterback is unacceptable.
The good news for the Chargers is that he has turned the ball over just once in his last three games (fumble), and has thrown for seven touchdowns during that span.
The bad news for the Chargers is that he has done it against secondary units that are mediocre at best in Denver, Jacksonville and Buffalo.
The Ravens secondary isn’t elite by any means, but their pass rush makes them look very good, and they could give Rivers a tough time.
2. Will the San Diego Defense Be Able to Contain Ray Rice?
Rice has been a machine in his last two games for the Ravens. Against Cleveland he touched the ball 31 times for 214 yards of offense (204 rush) and scored a touchdown, and a week ago against Indianapolis he rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown while having 46 yards receiving.
San Diego’s rush defense isn’t anything to write home about in 2011, and have been one of the worst tackling units in the NFL. Rice is a strong, compact back who will expose those flaws and likely have a big game.
3. Can Joe Flacco Step Up and Play Consistent Football?
There’s nothing worse than a quarterback who lacks overall consistency. After a strong 2010 for Flacco, he has been off and on in 2011 for Baltimore.
Flacco seems to have a good game every other week or every two weeks, frustrating Ravens fans and Flacco fantasy owners.
He has also made his fair share of turnovers with 15 total in 13 games (9 INT, 6 Fumble), and has been unreliable.
The Chargers pass defense has also been week, but have shown flashes of greatness at times. It’ll come down to which Flacco shows up. In the Ravens three losses, Flacco has commited four turnovers.
4. Do the Ravens Prove Their Road Woes to Be Gone?
It’s worth noting that one of the Ravens’ three losses came on the road in prime time. They lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 12-7, which was an outing that disappointed many fans.
All three losses have been on the road to teams that seemed inferior coming into the game and all three of which will not make the playoffs with Jacksonville, Tennessee and Seattle.
This is a long trip from Baltimore to San Diego, and prime time television tends to help the Chargers a bit, especially after they routed the Jaguars two weeks ago on Monday Night Football.
5. Will Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert Be Shut Down?
The Ravens pride themselves with their pass rush and a defense that stuffs the run. Ryan Mathews has the speed to turn the corner and get big chunks of yardage, but the Ravens linebackers are head hunters and are likely to get Ray Lewis back.
Mathews will have to be utilized out of the back field heavily and Tolbert will be used out of the back field and in short yardage situations, but it’s not realistic to expect either back to have a big game against this defense.
Despite the fact that the Ravens defense is in the Top 5 of the NFL, the Chargers still have the play makers to put up big points and should surprise them a bit on Sunday Night Football.
Ultimately, the Chargers likely won’t be able to pull out the win this week, likely killing their chances to win the division and make the playoffs.
Baltimore’s defense is quite strong, and Philip Rivers’ inability to prevent turnovers will likely decide this game, but it should be close.
The Chargers have the offensive weapons to put up big numbers, but the Ravens defense is a high pressure system that will do their best to prevent big plays down field from guys like Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates.