LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Five weeks into the season and the Chargers still stand atop the AFC with a 4-1 record. Just two other teams share the same record as them, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens.
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This weekend the Chargers will face the Ravens, as the two-first place teams will duke it out in what early predictions have suggested will be a shoot-out.
Just one week after a similar encounter with another AFC North team in the Cleveland Browns, which the Chargers won 47-42, they’ll be faced with the task of limiting the ever-versatile Lamar Jackson and their offense which is averaging 27 points a game.
The Los Angeles defense has allowed over 20 points just twice this season, as they look to limit the NFL’s top offense in terms of total yards per game, averaging 440.6, on the back of Top-10 rushing and passing games.
Adam Archuleta, CBS Analyst and former NFL safety, offered his thoughts prior to Sunday, noting that the Chargers will have their hands full in this matchup. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
What do you think the secret sauce should be in stopping the Ravens’ offense?
“Well there’s no secret sauce. Anytime you’re talking about a player of Jackson’s caliber, an MVP player, or a quarterback, you have to be at your best and they have to have a subpar game. All things being equal, that’s why the top quarterbacks are so hard to stop. You can do everything perfect, but they’re so good. When I look at their offense it’s three-dimensional, they can hurt you in three ways: it’s their running game – which includes Jackson, it’s their play-action game and then it’s their drop-back passing game. Two of those phases are where they get their big plays: that’s their run game and their play-action game, so you have to eliminate those – if you can. You have to be excellent on first down and y0u have to get them in obvious passing situations, and force them into the drop-back passing game. If you do that, your front four has to have a great game, and you have to put massive pressure on him.”
The Ravens run game is obviously something teams have struggled to deal with in the recent past; despite losing J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill to injury this season, the team still ranks fourth in the league with 148.8 yards rushing per game. The Chargers should expect more of the same from an offense that throws convention out the window.
Archuleta continued on with an honest opinion of the Chargers’ defense, especially after their performance last week, which shot them down to 32nd overall in terms of rushing defense, worst in the league.
When you look at their defense, do you think this unit could be good enough to potentially complement this Chargers’ offense?
“Well first I would say that they’re not a Top 10 defense. You also have to look at the caliber of teams and the caliber of offenses that they’ve played: this Chargers football team – they’re battle-tested. They’ve had some really good teams that they’ve had to play against. After I started watches the coaches copy of the defense, I felt like up front they got pushed around too much inside, so they’re not very stout in the middle. On the outside, I didn’t think their edge players did a really good job of containing the run – too many times they let the run get outside and they did get exposed a little bit on some shots downfield. I think it’s a defense that is okay from top to bottom, I don’t think they’re a top tier. In the middle, I think they can be a little bit more stout, and that’s really something that I’m looking for in this game.”
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers have used their own offense well, coming in as the third-best passing offense in the league behind second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, who has thrown for 11 touchdowns over his last three games. This can be attributed to a wide array of factors, as Archuleta pointed out when he mentioned the composure of Justin Herbert and the rebuild of their offensive line.
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Has Herbert changed more, is it more the receiving core, the offensive line, Brandon Staley’s play-calling – is it more them or is it more him? Or is it a little bit of both that’ve seen this improvement?
“I look at it as a football team that is learning exactly who they are – and just getting better. You have a new coach – everything’s brand new – you’re trying to figure everything out. It’s really hard to have an expectation that you’re gonna be moving at 100% clip when the season starts. To me, when I look at Herbert, the number one thing I see is somebody who just has such command and such confidence in what he’s doing. The biggest thing that stood out, that you really want to see from a top flight quarterback is when he’s gotta make a big time throw, when they’ve gotta have it – he makes that throw – whether it’s in the pocket or he’s scrambling. They see that, they trust it and they put the ball in his hands. So to me, his composure in those critical moments is really what stands out.”
He still had praise for other facets of the Chargers’ offense, specifically their new offensive line and their secret weapon in Austin Ekeler.
“They completely changed and rebuilt their offensive line, and they are much better than they have been. Offensive line has really been an issue for the Chargers for I don’t know how many years – whether it’s injuries or just inconsistent play – they have been playing exceptionally well.”
The Chargers are a throw first team. In that vein, how important does Austin Ekeler become as a guy who can gain yards when the defense is expecting them to gain yards. What role do you see him playing and how good can he be in those situations?
“Well I think he’s just awesome. I don’t know if he’s still considered underrated, but I think when you put a guy in a category of football player that makes your team better – I put him in that category. When I look at the Chargers’ offense, I think they have three players who can win 1-on-1 battles. Keenan Allen is one of those guys in gotta have it situations. Mike Williams is one of those guys – they do it very differently. And I would put Ekeler as one of those guys. Teams love to double Keenan Allen on third down, they scheme it up and they get a shot downfield to Williams, taking advantage of the double team. Now the defense has two receivers that we’re gonna have to battle to match up with 1-on-1, do they have a linebacker that can not only cover Ekeler, but that can tackle him? Ekeler is a great tackle avoider and tackle breaker in the open field. Now all of the sudden, the defense is worried about this passing game with these two receivers that can beat pretty much anybody and now you have Ekeler who’s 1-on-1 with a linebacker – because most likely the safeties are worried about these receivers – I look at him as a guy who can dominate, that they scheme up to get those 1-on-1 opportunities. I think he’s a great chess piece to have. Herbert has done a really good job of identifying what’s happening, who’s getting doubled, where’s my help, where’s my matchup, and getting the ball to a guy like Ekeler. Certainly he is as good as anybody out of the backfield at creating plays, when he has the ball in his hands.”
Archuleta had a lot to say about this year’s Ravens’ defense, noting how different they’ve looked from years past and why this might mean we’re in for a shootout come Sunday:
“As it pertains to the Ravens’ defense, they’ve been a top defense the last three seasons and they’ve been a top 10 scoring defense forever – they’re not playing up to typical Ravens standards, certainly not where they have been. They’ve played some really good offenses, obviously the injuries may have something to do with it – the one thing that I think they’re lacking is the consistent pass rush. They really haven’t been able to get after the quarterbacks, whether a three or four man rush, for a long time. I know Don Martindale, their defensive coordinator, loves to pressure and he loves to blitz – and they get pressure in that way. But, I think the more you rely on that blitz, teams can take advantage of it. Teams have been able to catch them in blitzing situations this year, and they can’t give their secondary a break to deal with some of those injuries and play a little bit more zone. If they don’t rush or blitz, they’re not getting pressure – and I think that’s one area where they can step it up. You can run the ball on them, they’re not this iron curtain up front. They’re a very good defense, but they’re not this defense that’s a suffocating defense where you can’t run it and you can’t pass it. I think it is a defense that you can move the ball on, and the Chargers – with what they have – are certainly more than capable of moving the ball. It’ll be really fun to watch how these two football teams matchup.”
Heading into the game, the Herbert is ranked as the 7th overall quarterback in the league, while Jackson comes in just one ahead at 6th. Despite this, Caesar’s Sportsbook has the Chargers at +2.5 over the Ravens. When asked if he would rather face Herbert or Jackson if he was still playing, Archuleta had a surprising response.
Who would you be least excited about going into a game against – you gotta face Justin Herbert or you gotta face Lamar Jackson – how would you try to stop both players?
“It’s not an easy question, but I would rather face Herbert than Jackson. Purely because at least, if I’m facing Herbert, we’re playing more of a conventional offense. I know he’s a talented guy and he’s gonna make throws, but when you play Jackson it throws you into such a foreign place. Now you have all the misdirection components of their offense, you have all the different option components of the offense and you have him in the open field. In a normal football sense you develop a spatial intelligence and awareness of where your help is and where your guys are in certain coverages, but with Jackson he throws it all out the window. You’re not playing on instincts, and their offense forces you to think. When you think, then you’re a step slow. Now you’re a step slow against Jackson in the open field – who is among the most special open field runners in the NFL. People are thinking and you’re doing things you don’t typically do, and that’s why you see so many wide open receivers when you play the Ravens. With Jackson, you can really only play a couple defenses. He knows you’re gonna be in zone, and probably in a single-high zone, you really can’t play man. You don’t have nearly as much disguise options, as much of your toolbox – he has the advantage when you’re playing against him thanks to his skillset as a runner, and how the Ravens put their scheme together to take advantage of all that. I would rather play Herbert – or any passing quarterback for that standpoint”
Matchup odds have the game at o51.5, meaning that between the two teams, the combined score for the game is predicted to be around 52 total points as fans should look for an exciting shootout at the hands of Herbert and Jackson.MORE NEWS: Jerry O'Connell Invades Chargers-Raiders Tailgate