Welcome to Wild-Card Weekend of the 2018 NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the upcoming playoff games and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The third wild-card game of the 2018 NFL season will take place in Baltimore as the Ravens will face the Los Angeles Chargers. Here’s what to watch for:
BOLTS’ OFFENSE HUMMING ALONG NICELY
During their time as assistant coaches with the Buffalo Bills, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive line coach Pat Meyer preferred a running game predicated on man-blocking schemes and gap/power principles, with guards and tackles pulling around the edge. Those two, along with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, have brought that approach to Los Angeles and it has worked well, with running back Melvin Gordon having been on pace for nearly 1,200 rushing yards before missing the last four regular season games.
Despite losing budding young tight end Hunter Henry for the season over the summer, quarterback Philip Rivers – who is still playing at a high level – has a plethora of options as his disposal. Veteran Antonio Gates, while having lost a step or two, is still savvy enough to know how to get open over the middle and in the end zone. Keenan Allen is one of the league’s best route runners when healthy, and Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are all solid downfield threats.
CHARGERS’ DEFENSE A SHUTDOWN UNIT
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley likes to operate his unit with a Seattle-style Cover Three zone, with one deep safety – typically rookie Derwin James – and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, one of the best duos in the league, playing deep zone coverage while dividing the field in thirds. Verrett, however, has missed his second straight season due to injury and his replacement is Desmond King – who hasn’t been too shabby himself.
Up front, the Bolts are anchored by three stalwarts on their defensive line. Brandon Mebane, a former Seahawk who knows Bradley’s system well, is an excellent gap-shooter and a good run stuffer at tackle, and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram make up one of the NFL’s best pass-rusher combinations.
RAVENS ARE RUNNING WILD
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has a background in the West Coast offense, which he has utilized everywhere he’s been to varying degrees of success. His greatest achievements, however, were when his system became more vertical rather than horizontal with the likes of Steve Young, Donovan McNabb and Vick pulling the trigger.
Rookie Lamar Jackson, who has usurped veteran Joe Flacco, is at his best when relying on his strong right arm and testing defenses downfield. But in the NFL, you cannot have sustained success by consistently relying on deep throws. You must have a passing attack based on rhythmic, quick throws, and that’s an area in which Jackson has struggled so far.
Because Jackson has such limited experience – and not the greatest of talent at his disposal in the passing game – the Ravens turned to assistant head coach Greg Roman for help in making over Baltimore’s attack. Roman had experience working with both Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, and installed concepts that worked for both of his former signal-callers, including bootlegs, rollouts, sweeps, zone-read options and RPOs. These plays have helped Jackson and running backs Gus Edwards and Javorius Allen become stellar in the rushing department.
Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst make up Jackson’s pass targets and Baltimore’s offensive line is anchored by stalwarts Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr.
RAVENS’ DEFENSE HAS ADJUSTED WELL TO NEW SHOT CALLER
Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale had a tall task ahead of him entering 2018. Given the team’s long history of success on that side of the ball – the numerous All-Pros and successful coaches they’ve employed have made strong defenses a franchise tradition – Martindale inherited a strong unit that finished within the top 10 in most statistical categories and anything less than that would have been a failure by Baltimore’s standards.
Martindale had spent just one year as the general of a defensive unit – in 2010 for the Denver Broncos – but he disguises coverages and blitzes just as much as his predecessors, and then some. Relying on versatile defenders like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, Martindale can mix and match with both zone and man-press coverage, and he has seen outstanding results this year with his unit culminating into the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
THIS AND THAT
- Lamar Jackson’s record as a starter is 6-1.
- Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris coached the same position for the Chargers from 2013-15.
- Chargers assistant special teams coach Keith Burns was on the same staff as Martindale in Denver from 2009-10.
- D’Alessandris worked with Chargers defensive line coach Giff Smith in Buffalo from 2010-12.
- Smith was a colleague of Whisenhunt’s in Tennessee when the latter was head coach of the Titans from 2014-15.
- Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram and Roman have worked for both John Harbaugh in Baltimore and for John’s brother Jim in San Francisco – Engram as an offensive assistant in 2011 and Roman as the 49ers offensive coordinator from 2011-14 (in addition to his stint at Stanford from 2009-10).
- Roman, Lynn and Chargers offensive line coach Pat Meyer were on Rex Ryan’s staff in Buffalo from 2015-16.
- Urban and Mornhinweg both worked with John Harbaugh when the three were in Philadelphia – the latter starting in 2003 and the former a year later.
- Chargers special teams coach George Stewart and linebackers coach Richard Smith both were on Steve Mariucci’s staff with the 49ers in the late 90’s.
- Whisenhunt and Chargers strength and conditioning coach John Lott were coworkers with the New York Jets in 2000 and with the Arizona Cardinals from 2007-12.
- Richard Smith was Lynn’s special teams coach in 1993 in Denver.