With the Ravens aiming to move back into sole possession of the AFC’s top spot in a Sunday night clash with the Chargers in Los Angeles, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. Lamar Jackson entered Week 11 having not thrown a single touchdown on 52 pass attempts without Mark Andrews on the field this season. He threw two against Cincinnati after Andrews was injured, but now we’ll begin to see how this offense evolves without Jackson’s most reliable and best pass-catching target.
2. The Chargers are reeling after back-to-back defeats in very “Charger” ways, but five of their six losses have come by a field goal or less. Meanwhile, Baltimore is 3-3 in one-score games with those defeats coming in excruciating fashion. John Harbaugh’s team can’t get caught looking ahead to the bye.
3. Sunday brings a battle of quarterbacks who’ve performed well against pressure this season with PFF grading Jackson second and Justin Herbert fifth among qualified passers. There’s plenty wrong with the Chargers, but Herbert is having a strong season. We’ll see how he holds up against Baltimore’s pass rush, however.
4. Ronnie Stanley told reporters he expects to play Sunday after sitting out Week 11 while Marlon Humphrey appears to be more of a question after being limited in practices all week. Having healthy versions of both down the stretch would be huge, so the Ravens still need to be smart.
5. Joey Bosa is out, but Stanley will be busy with the bull rush of Khalil Mack, who is having a superb 10th season with 11 sacks and PFF grading him ninth among NFL edge rushers. Mack has forced four fumbles, which is notable with some of Jackson’s ball security issues.
6. Despite the presence of Mack, three-time Pro Bowl safety Derwin James, and Bosa until last week, this Los Angeles defense is bad and one of the biggest reasons why head coach Brandon Staley is on the hot seat. The Chargers do have 15 takeaways with a league-high nine fumble recoveries.
7. Odell Beckham Jr. described his status as a game-time decision, but the Ravens listed him as a full participant Friday and he didn’t talk like someone holding much doubt. Playing in Los Angeles for the first time since Super Bowl LVI, Beckham should be itching to have a strong game.
8. The 31-year-old Keenan Allen is having an outstanding season with 83 catches for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns while being targeted a third of the time in the Chargers passing game. Allen is productive in the slot or outside and against man coverage or zone, so everyone must be ready.
9. An underwhelming Austin Ekeler may not be able to take advantage, but Baltimore’s run defense has fallen to 21st in yards per carry allowed. In fairness, the Ravens practically dared Cincinnati to run, but surrendering 314 yards and 5.3 yards per carry over the last two contests is too leaky.
10. Asked about the pre-snap disguise of the pass rush, Odafe Oweh said, “We’re all like little ninjas out there just trying to hide it as long as we can and then just attack.” Oweh won’t be able to hide much longer if he continues playing as well as he has.
11. Drafted one spot ahead of Zay Flowers in April, Quentin Johnston had a brutal drop on what could have been a game-winning touchdown last week and has made just 20 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown this season. Meanwhile, Flowers has been Baltimore’s best wide receiver.
12. A few days of rest should have helped, but the Ravens are coming off a pair of physical games against division rivals and were also sluggish taking their last cross-country trip in the choppy Week 8 win at Arizona. This will mark the latest bye Baltimore has had since 2001.
Prediction: Los Angeles really needs a win to maintain any semblance of hope for making a playoff run while the Ravens are trying to improve upon their 5-3 conference record and enter their bye week in the AFC’s top spot with a difficult final stretch of the regular season looming. The most consistent quality that the Chargers possess has been the ability to do less with more than just about any team in the NFL for years now. Led by Herbert, Allen, and Mack, they have the premium talent to hand Baltimore its second road loss of the season, but Los Angeles has beaten just one team with a winning record all year and is more likely to make the critical mistake in what I envision being a close game. The Ravens have a much better defense and running game, which will be the difference in a 27-23 win for Baltimore.