The Gus 'The Bus*' Edwards* Doesn't Go in Reverse
Ravens rookie running back Gus Edwards has turned heads with his physical running style, gaining at least 100 yards in three of his five starts. His power and ability to break tackles makes him hard to bring down in the backfield.
Edwards has gone 111 straight carries without being tackled for loss, an impressive stat that has not been lost on Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn.
"Gus is running hard right now," Lynn said during a conference call. "He's very decisive, hitting the holes, physical, creating plays after contact. They have a good thing going. They are a good complement to one another because Lamar (Jackson) makes you protect the perimeter and Gus, when the defense gets soft in the middle, Gus attacks it."
Edwards' ability to avoid negative carries is keeping the Ravens out of long-yardage situations. That is another reason their three-and-outs have been few, and their long drives have been plentiful. Baltimore has 36 drives of 10 plays or more this season, tops in the NFL.
"Right now, we have a good thing going," Edwards said. "We're trying to build on that each game and keep it working. We feel like the fourth quarter belongs to us. And we'll run out the clock every time if we have to."
The Ravens' straight-ahead running back duo of Edwards and Kenneth Dixon could greatly help negate the Chargers' dynamic edge defenders of Joey Bosa and Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram.
A Fresh Michael Pierce Could Pay Big December Dividends
Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce remembers how he felt last December, worn down from a long season as the Ravens tried to claw their way into the playoffs.
He feels so much better this year it's hard to believe, the result of being required to play fewer snaps thanks to the Ravens' effective ball-control offense.
"My shoulders were hanging on by a thread last year," Pierce said. "Going from playing 60 plays to 25 or 30 plays makes a hell of a difference. I feel like I can play well enough, and long enough, to last through the Super Bowl."
The Ravens' ball-control offense has helped Pierce, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and others along the defensive front stay healthier and more energetic heading into the season's final two games. That could be an asset for the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense heading into Saturday night's game against the Chargers.
The Chargers expect to have their leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, back in the lineup after a three-game absence. Gordon (802 yards) is one of the NFL's top backs, so making the Chargers' offense one-dimensional starts with containing Gordon.
If they can do that, Pierce and Williams hope to create pressure up the middle into the face of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is a great quarterback, but not much of a scrambler.
"He's a precision passer, a lot off his stuff is based on timing and he directs all that stuff," Pierce said. "Anytime you can get those kind of guys, those Drew Brees-type of guys, to throw off their timing and get pressure in their face makes a hell of a difference."
Although he often rotates Williams out of the lineup when Pierce comes in, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said Williams and Pierce may play together more often.
"It's time to step up with both those guys," Martindale said. "They're playing at such a high level that in the right situations, we're going to put them both out there together. In my mind, they're both starters."
In his third season, Williams has never experienced a playoff game. That is something he wants to change.
"I still remember by rookie season losing in Pittsburgh (in Week 16)," Williams said. "At the end of the day, somebody has to make a play. It doesn't matter who it is. We've got to find a way to make those plays to make the playoffs. We have our destiny in our hands. That's all you can ask for this time of year."
If the Ravens Want to Trash Talk, Rivers Will Be Willing
Rivers may be the most combative quarterback in the game, willing to verbally challenge players on the field. Sometimes it seems Rivers talks just to fire up himself. In his second NFL season, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey has never faced Rivers and is eager to see his approach.
"I've heard some of the guys talking that he's a pretty emotional guy – he'll say some things," Humphrey said. "I haven't really … I guess I'm not too close to many quarterbacks, so I never really heard a quarterback talk that much. I hear he does a lot of chirping. He has a lot of confidence in his game, and rightfully so – he's a great player. Most great players, just about all of them, definitely have high confidence."
Jackson says he won't mimic Rivers' style. Plenty of opponents have talked trash to Jackson since he became the Ravens' starter, telling him they're going to hurt him and so on, but he usually says nothing in return.
"No, I just play football," Jackson said. "Talk, I just, I don't know. I don't really care. They're going to talk trash. That's what defense is for – talk trash, hit you, do whatever it takes to get you out of the game. My job is to stay focused, so I don't let it get to me."
Humphrey Benefits From New Approach to Film Study
In his second season, Humphrey is obviously a physically-gifted cornerback, but he has also stepped up his game in the film room. Joining a secondary with veterans like such as safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Brandon Carr has helped Humphrey learn how to use film study to its full advantage.
"It's been big," Humphrey said. "Watching film isn't always good if you don't know what to watch. I've recently tried to take the approach that 'Dub' [Weddle] does a little bit. He watches it mainly by formations – what you're going to get out of the formations. But for me, it's been trying to know what you think is going to happen before it comes. I mainly just watched how receivers get off, play against certain guys and things like that. You kind of watch more for the big picture, instead of just singling out a certain guy."
Humphrey was one of the Ravens' candidates to make the Pro Bowl, but believes he was hurt by having just one interception this season, which didn't come until Week 15 against the Bucs.
"I don't know if that's the criteria, but I think it's definitely something that gets looked at, definitely pretty highly," Humphrey said. "Yes, a major goal of mine is to make the Pro Bowl."