Game Preview: Ravens Are In Playoff Mode

The Ravens aren’t in the dance yet, but they’re expecting that kind of atmosphere.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, December 17th, 2011 at 11:41 am | Categories: Ryan Mink, Week 15 vs Chargers

The Ravens aren’t in the playoffs yet.

They have to beat the Chargers Sunday night to ensure a fourth straight trip to the dance.

But Baltimore is mentally already there and expecting a playoff atmosphere in San Diego.

“We are in playoff mode,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

“We want 13 wins, and in order to get to 13, we have to get to 11. As tight as the AFC is, we can’t afford to let up.”

Both teams will have a lot on the line in the primetime matchup.

Baltimore (10-3) may not be able to afford to drop a game down the stretch and still win the AFC North and get home-field advantage. San Diego (6-7) is two games back in the AFC West and needs a victory to keep its playoff hopes alive.

The Chargers are 22-2 over the past six years in December. They’re riding a two-game win streak in which they’ve blown away their opponents.

But safety Bernard Pollard looked at the fact that San Diego will pose a tough challenge as a positive.

“This is December football; this is what we all know and want,” he said. “We can set the tone and we have to set the tone.”

3 Matchups To Watch

OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Jared Gaither
If the Ravens are going to slow San Diego’s vertical passing game, they’ve got to get pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers. Suggs has been on a tear as of late, and he’ll be facing a familiar foe in the former Ravens tackle. Gaither has held up well in two games since signing with San Diego, but is he in good enough shape to handle the Defensive Player of the Year candidate?

QB Joe Flacco vs. S Eric Weddle
Weddle is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with seven. He has great ball skills and is a ranging centerfielder. The Chargers offense is so explosive that the last thing the Ravens can afford is to give it short fields or extra opportunities with turnovers. San Diego plays a lot of man coverage outside of the ball-hawking Weddle.

Ravens CBs vs. Chargers WRs
It’s unknown whether Lardarius Webb will be suited up or not. Either way, the Ravens have tough assignments with San Diego’s 6-foot-5 wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Jackson is second in the NFL with 19 catches over 20 yards. Floyd is also adept at getting over the top. The 6-foot-1 Cary Williams and 6-foot-2 Jimmy Smith should bring the size to match up with them.

3 Questions To Answer

Just how good is the Ravens’ secondary?
Baltimore’s pass defense is ranked fifth in the NFL, but it hasn’t had as tough a test all year as it will face in San Diego. The Ravens allowed some deep completions in Tennessee to big-bodied wideout Kenny Britt. Sunday will show whether they have solved those issues and can hang with one of the game’s top vertical attacks. The Chargers’ offense is ranked eighth overall in the NFL, the highest Baltimore will face.

Can the offense stay hot?
There hasn’t been much chatter about the offense lately, as it has stabilized behind the improved running game and Ray Rice. The Ravens will face another somewhat lopsided defense this week, as the Chargers are seventh versus the pass and 23rd against the pass. They are next-to-last in the NFL in stopping opponents from converting on third down.

Who is the top team in the AFC?
This should be answered by the end of the weekend, but the Ravens can make a big statement by beating a hot San Diego team at their place. The Patriots and Steelers also have tough road tasks in Denver and San Francisco, respectively. Whoever comes out with wins could be looking at home playoff games.

Team Rankings

Ravens
Total Offense – 346.0 (14th)
Rush Offense – 117.2 (13th)
Pass Offense – 228.8 (15th)
Points Per Game – 24.6 (9th)

Total Defense – 278.1 (3rd)
Rush Defense – 85.8 (2nd)
Pass Defense – 192.3 (5th)
Points Per Game – 15.5 (3rd)

Chargers
Total Offense – 388.1 (8th)
Rush Offense – 115.2 (16th)
Pass Offense – 272.8 (7th)
Points Per Game – 24.9 (T-7th)

Total Defense – 330.5 (8th)
Rush Defense – 128.9 (T-23rd)
Pass Defense – 201.5 (7th)
Points Per Game – 23.0 (21st)

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