Can Eric Weddle and the Ravens Defense Stop Philip Rivers Again?


Even though they're the best of friends, Ravens safety Eric Weddle and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers didn't text each other for a couple days after Baltimore shut down Rivers in a dominant 22-10 win on Dec. 22.

But, eventually, they touched base with the score firmly: Weddle 1, Rivers 0.

"That's my guy. It took a couple days. We talked. We talked about the game," Weddle said with a smile.

"We both knew we were going to see each other in a couple weeks, so it was a good talk, just how the game went and positives and negatives. It's going to be great to go against him again."

Rivers has been among the MVP talk for much of the season, but the Ravens held him to just 181 passing yards and zero touchdowns. They picked him off twice – on his first and last throws of the game. It was the fewest passing yards Rivers had thrown for in a game since Oct. 13, 2016.

So the question this week is, can the Ravens do it again?

"When you play a team for the second time, you obviously want to be the team that beat them the first time," Weddle said. "But, you know they're going to come back with changes, with wrinkles, and they're going to play that much harder, because they know what happened the first game. But, we understand that."

Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale acknowledged that it's a difficult path to walk this week. Do you do the same stuff that worked so well the first time? Do you do more of it? Less of it?

"Whatever works, we're going to keep calling it and hopefully we have the same success," Martindale said. "But like I said the last time we played them: We're going against a Hall of Fame quarterback. We know he's going to make some adjustments as well."

Martindale is excited to see Weddle and Rivers battle it out again, mentally. Weddle spent months preparing to take on his good buddy and former team with that Dec. 22 game circled on his calendar. And when it ended, he had a good feeling they would see each other again.

"Eric knows what bothers Philip, we know what bothers Philip," Martindale said. "Philip knows what bothers Weddle. So that's the fun challenge to watch. Philip knows what bothers us. Trust me, this guy is a competitor."

One thing that has plagued Rivers recently is turnovers. He's thrown six interceptions in his last three games, including one on the Chargers' opening possession in each of those games. He tossed two picks in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos last Sunday and threw for just 176 yards despite playing into the fourth quarter.

Conversely, the Ravens' top-ranked defense is starting to feast on turnovers after struggling in that department for much of the year. Baltimore got three turnovers against the Chargers, then picked off Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield three times in the season finale.

The Ravens have been saying all season that the turnovers would come, and they would come in bunches. They may be coming at the perfect time.

"Some of that is us forcing the issue a little bit more, and some is getting the opportunities with the pressure, with the quarterbacks getting hit, the quarterbacks down in games, and they're forcing the ball up a little bit more," Weddle said. "It's been a point of emphasis all season, but especially after the bye, to pick it up."

The Ravens brought the heat on Rivers – eight hits and four sacks – in their meeting three weeks ago. Per SportRadar, Baltimore rushed five or more defenders 41.5 percent of the time. It remains to be seen how often the Ravens will blitz this time, but they still definitely want Rivers to feel the heat.

"They just never let you get comfortable as an offense. It's always something trying to keep you off balance," Rivers said this week of Baltimore's defense.

"You always want to protect the football, but you don't think you want to play scared to make a play or make a mistake, because then you won't make any plays. You've definitely got to cut it loose."

Rivers will have plenty to play for. This will be the 37-year-old quarterback's first playoff trip in five years and second in the past decade. And it could be his last.

"He's an explosive guy, a future Hall of Famer in most everybody's opinion, so he's definitely going to fix some things that he did, especially protection-wise," Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce said.

"We have to be on our 'p's and q's.' He can light you up in a heartbeat, so we have to get to him like we did the first time, most definitely."

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