NFL Preview - Baltimore (1-0) at San Diego (1-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Though certain sectors of the NFL world may have been surprised at the performance of the Baltimore Ravens offense last week, the San Diego Chargers and their supporters were not likely among them.
The designer of the offense that racked up a franchise-record 501 yards in the Ravens' 38-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week - coordinator Cam Cameron - previously worked similar magic during a five-year tenure in the same capacity with the Chargers (2002-06). Thus, when Cameron and the Ravens visit Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, most of San Diego will know exactly what it is getting.
The work of the Baltimore offense in the win over an admittedly struggling Kansas City franchise continues the progression that Cameron and the Ravens enjoyed during a surprising 11-5 campaign a year ago.
Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who took the Ravens all the way to the AFC Championship in 2008, opened his sophomore campaign by completing 26-of-43 passes for 307 yards with three touchdowns, including a 31-yard post pattern for a touchdown to wideout Mark Clayton that broke a 24-24 tie late in the going.
The type of balance Cameron favored while coordinating the Chargers attack earlier this decade was also on display in Week 1 against Kansas City, as running back Ray Rice rushed 19 times for 108 yards and backup Willis McGahee scored touchdowns via both the ground and air.
San Diego also enjoyed a successful first week, going into a hostile environment in Oakland, and rallying to beat the Raiders, 24-20, on Monday night.
After the Silver and Black took a 20-17 lead on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal at the 2:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers engineered a 9-play, 89-yard drive culminating with a five-yard touchdown blast by running back Darren Sproles in the final minute.
The victory came with a price, however.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson suffered an ankle injury that limited his availability in practice this week, while rookie guard Louis Vasquez (knee) and center Nick Hardwick (ankle) were also forced to leave the game due to injury. Tackle Marcus McNeill (hand) played all four quarters but is also questionable for the Ravens.
On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle Jamal Williams came away with an elbow injury that has placed his own status in doubt for Week 2.
The all-time series between the Ravens and Chargers is knotted, 3-3, with San Diego evening the series by virtue of a 32-14 home win during the 2007 regular season. Baltimore won the previous meeting, a 16-13 come-from-behind victory at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4 of the 2006 season. Baltimore last won in San Dieo in 2003, taking a 24-10 decision.
San Diego head coach Norv Turner is 2-1 in his career against the Ravens, including 1-1 during his tenure with Washington (1994-2000). Baltimore's John Harbaugh will be meeting both Turner and the Chargers for the first time as a head coach. Harbaugh's brother, Jim, started 17 games as San Diego's quarterback in 1999-2000.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Anyone who paid attention to the Ravens during the preseason could not have been stunned that Flacco put the ball in the air 43 times against the Chiefs, as Baltimore had gone to the pass quite a bit during the warm-up period. What was more surprising, however, was the work of Clayton (5 receptions, 77 yards, 1 TD) and Baltimore tight end Todd Heap (5 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD), who turned the page on disappointing 2008 seasons by serving as Flacco's top targets in Week 1. No. 1 receiver Derrick Mason (4 receptions, 47 yards) and new face Kelley Washington (3 receptions, 43 yards) also made an impact for what was a dynamic Ravens attack against the Chiefs. The running game had its moments as well, as Rice hit triple-digits to open his career as the Ravens starter, and McGahee continued to add value by accruing 75 total yards (44 rushing, 31 receiving) on 14 total touches (10 rushes, 4 receptions), two of which resulted in touchdowns. The third member of Baltimore's three-headed rushing monster, Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain, had 42 yards on nine touches including a touchdown in the win. The new-look Baltimore o-line, with right tackle Michael Oher and center Matt Birk in tow, surrendered just one sack on the day.
The Chargers were hoping to be more opportunistic defensively in 2009 than they were a year ago, and Week 1 was a good sign in that regard. San Diego cornerbacks Antoine Cason (3 tackles) and Quentin Jammer both intercepted the Raiders' JaMarcus Russell, while linebacker Stephen Cooper both forced and recovered a Darren McFadden fumble. Cooper had a monster game, amassing a game-high 13 tackles, but was also part of a group that surrendered 148 yards to Oakland on the ground. The possible absence of the massive Williams (3 tackles) will only hamper the Chargers' efforts against the run, and Cooper, fellow inside linebacker Tim Dobbins (3 tackles) and end Luis Castillo (1 tackle) will have to help compensate for that absence. The San Diego pass rush was somewhat disappointing in Week 1, with outside linebackers Shawne Merriman (5 tackles) and Shaun Phillips (3 tackles) both getting shut out in the sack department. First-year tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo (3 tackles), who figures to see increased minutes if Williams is out, had the only sack of Russell on Monday.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
After a great deal of preseason talk about the possibility of Tomlinson reverting to his previous dominant form, the future Hall of Famer fell short of that mark in the opener against the Raiders. While contending with the aforementioned ankle problem, Tomlinson accounted for just 55 yards on 13 carries, scoring a first-half touchdown but losing a fumble and not making much of a difference in the passing game. Backup Darren Sproles struggled in the run game (9 rushes, 23 yards), but caught five passes for 43 yards out of the backfield and, as mentioned, scored the game-winning touchdown on the ground. Philip Rivers had a largely strong opener, completing 24-of-36 passes for 252 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Antonio Gates (5 receptions, 83 yards) and Vincent Jackson (5 receptions, 56 yards, 1 TD) both had nice nights for the Chargers, and backup wideout Legedu Naanee had five catches for 49 yards of his own. Neither the team's rushing struggles or problems in pass- blocking are likely to be aided by the battered state of the offensive line. Rivers was sacked three times against the Raiders, including twice by end Richard Seymour.
Some eyebrows might have been raised when the Chiefs managed 24 points on the Ravens, since only four opponents managed that total or better against the team last season. That said, while Baltimore did give up a couple of big plays, Kansas City's first 14 points came off a blocked punt for a touchdown, and an interception return that set the Chiefs up inside the Baltimore 10-yard line, respectively. Otherwise, the Ravens clamped down against the run in their first game under new coordinator Greg Mattison, giving up just 29 yards on the ground. Linebacker Ray Lewis (6 tackles) and tackle Kelly Gregg (6 tackles) were among the top run-stoppers. The pass rush generated three sacks, including two for linebacker Jarret Johnson (3 tackles), and one for end Trevor Pryce that forced a Brodie Croyle fumble. There were no major blips from the new cornerback tandem of Fabian Washington (2 tackles) and Domonique Foxworth (3 tackles), apart from a 50-yard reception to Mark Bradley that set the Chiefs up for a score.
The Ravens have never been a popular team among fantasy owners, but a new day could be dawning in that regard. If Flacco continues to put the ball in the air 40+ times, he'll be worth considering as an every-week starter, as will Mason, Heap, and perhaps even Clayton. It might be worth waiting one more week to see if last Sunday's performance was more about a shaky Chiefs defense than a powerful Ravens attack, but remember that San Diego is a team traditionally subject to giving up big plays on the back end. Rice figures to get the touches you want out of your starting running backs, but don't be counting on McGahee to hit the end zone multiple times again.
It might be hard to bench Tomlinson since he was probably your first or second pick, but his ankle injury, coupled with the fact that the Ravens are a great run-stopping team, should prompt you to at least consider other options there. Sproles is a risky option too. The main figures in the passing game - Rivers, Gates, and Jackson - remain worthy starters. Gates' most recent 100-yard game was against the Ravens back in 2007. Kicker Nate Kaeding should get some opportunities as well, but the Chargers defense is a riskier play.
Anyone who watched the Ravens' first-team offense during the preseason and latter stages of last season couldn't have been greatly surprised by the team's ability to move the football against the Chiefs. Baltimore still has the reputation as a defensive-minded team, but for the first time this decade, the offense has become something close to its equal. If the Raiders moved the football on the Chargers last week, the Ravens will do the same, and the question will become whether San Diego can score enough points to keep up. Given the uncertain injury situations along the offensive line and in the running game, we bet the answer to that question will be "no," and that the Ravens will walk away with an impressive road victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 28, Chargers 19
09/17 16:04:18 ET