The season is starting to wind down, but the Chargers (11-3) have a lot riding on these last two games in terms of playoff seeding.
This Saturday in primetime, the Chargers face the number one defense in the NFL in the Baltimore Ravens (8-6), led by former Chargers safety Eric Weddle.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was one of 12 current players that were on the 2015 roster, which was Weddle’s last season donning a bolt helmet. Rivers still has a relationship with Weddle as they both coach their sons’ flag football teams.
“We've had quite a bit of competition on the practice field, just when score wasn't involved,” said Rivers, “So it will be a heck of a challenge, both he leading that defense, and just that defense in general, it's a heck of a defense. So we definitely have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”
During Weddle’s nine years in San Diego, many teammates and coaches said that having him was like having a quarterback on the defensive end. He would change plays, wore the radio helmet, and was a leader that the younger players could go to for guidance, which is the same thing he does now on the Ravens.
“They all look to him to do a lot of the communicating,” explained Rivers. “It seems like the group that's on the same page but you see Eric directing a lot of that, as you'd expect, that's what he's done here. That's what he's great at, and he's a heck of a player after the snap. It's some of the pre-snap things that he does that really separates him from a lot of other safeties.”
The Ravens defense is not only the number one in total defense, but they are number one against the pass and number three against the run. They will run into a Chargers offense that has been rolling as of late, even without running back Melvin Gordon. Both teams are coming in hot with the Ravens winning four out of their last five and the Chargers winning three in a row including two tough road games in Pittsburgh and Kansas City.
One of the best things to see in a game featuring Weddle and/or Rivers is their pre-snap calls. Time might be ticking down, but Rivers will run up to his line and change the protection or the play, one second left and he snaps it. Weddle waits, walks around, and sees what way the offense lines up and if he remembers something from film, he will change it up or point out where the ball is going. These two guys are ahead of the game when it comes to preparation, but could they both point out each other’s calls?
“I'll find out” said Rivers, “We'll find out early on. We'll find out early on how much of that will go on. I mean, that would go on about every day, multiple times a day on the practice field, you know? Of course, you could hear a little bit then, it's just us on the practice field. I think, again, I don't want to make too much of it. I don't imagine he's going to overanalyze everything he hears. He knows that I know that he knows, you know what I mean? And vice versa.”
Things went downhill between the Chargers and Weddle in 2015 when he called out the team’s brass for not being upfront with him about their intentions on wanting to re-sign him. He went as far as to say that “as long as that management is there, I’ll never set foot anywhere near that place.”
Expect there to be extra motivation for number 32 this weekend when he faces his former team for the first time since his departure.
Both teams are fighting for their placement in the playoffs this Saturday. If Baltimore wins and the Pittsburgh Steelers lose in New Orleans, Baltimore will be the division leader. Now if Baltimore loses and Indianapolis or Tennessee wins, the Ravens will drop out of the sixth seed, so they have a lot riding on this game. If the Chargers lose and Kansas City wins on Sunday night in Seattle the Chiefs win the division and would nearly wrap up home-field advantage in the AFC. If the Chargers win and Kansas City loses, then the Bolts take sole possession of the first seed and the Chiefs drop down to the fifth seed. Easy math, right?
NUTS N’ BOLTS
•Chargers injury report: DNP: WR Keenan Allen (hip), RB Austin Ekeler (neck), TE Sean Culkin (back). FULL: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), DT Brandon Mebane (not injury related).
•Pro Bowl rosters came out today and the Chargers have seven players headed to Orlando in QB Philip Rivers (8), C Mike Pouncey (4), RB Melvin Gordon (2), WR Keenan Allen (2), DE Melvin Ingram (2), S Derwin James (rookie), and S Adrian Phillips. This is the most the team has had since 10 made the trip in 2008.