The San Diego Chargers came into the season expecting their offense to be its typical high-powered self, but injuries have already created some problems on that side of the ball.
The normally defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens, meanwhile, couldn’t be happier with the state of their offense.
Both teams will be trying to move to 2-0 when they meet Sunday in San Diego, where the Chargers will make their 2009 home debut with the status of former league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and the team’s offensive line in doubt.
The Chargers have scored more points than any NFL team other than New England since the start of 2005, but they had problems for much of their opener at Oakland on Monday night.
A late surge gave them a 24-20 victory, only after they were outgained by the Raiders and managed 77 rushing yards on 23 carries, a problem that could grow worse after Tomlinson suffered a sprained ankle.
Backup Darren Sproles(notes) scored the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left, but averaged 2.6 yards on his nine carries and may need to carry a larger load. It won’t help that the Chargers have a weakened line after center Nick Hardwick(notes) (sprained ankle) and rookie guard Louis Vasquez(notes) (sprained knee) suffered injuries against Oakland.
“Hardwick, what he means to this team, and for Vasquez to go out in his first game, it’s tough,” quarterback Philip Rivers(notes) said. “You’re never going to have an injury-free season, but you hope you don’t get too banged up in Week 1.”
The Chargers signed veteran lineman Dennis Norman(notes) to add depth in case Hardwick and Vasquez remain out, but Rivers still will need to step up against a Baltimore team with a notoriously tough defense. The Ravens allowed fewer yards last season than every team but Pittsburgh and forced a league-high 34 turnovers.
With their uncertain running back situation, the Chargers seem unlikely to end the Ravens’ 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher - easily the NFL’s longest active run.
“We’ve got to get Darren some help,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said of Sproles, who is also a key component on special teams, having racked up 180 return yards last week. “He wants to stay in there. I told him after the game, ‘We can’t do that to you.’ He said, ‘Hey coach, I was fine.”
The Chargers will also be concerned with Baltimore’s offense after the Ravens’ 38-24 opening win over Kansas City last Sunday. Second-year quarterback Joe Flacco(notes) was 26 for 43 for 307 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, notching career highs in attempts, yards and TDs.
“We want to put our offense on the map,” tight end Todd Heap(notes) said. “Coming into this year we set a lot of goals offensively, and we’re doing everything we can to reach those goals. I think there were quite a few of them we were able to attain; now it’s a matter of going out and doing it week in and week out.”
Baltimore’s defense didn’t come up with any takeaways, but it wasn’t exactly shoddy against the Chiefs, holding Kansas City to 188 total yards - the third-lowest total of any team in Week 1.
“The defense appreciated the offense moving the ball and scoring points and keeping them off the field,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “and the offense appreciated all the three-and-outs. You get 90 plays on offense and you go 47 plays on defense, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Baltimore set an impressive opening tone as it tries to get back to the AFC Championship, where the Ravens lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers in January.
San Diego fell to Pittsburgh in the divisional round, and Sunday’s game could provide an early AFC postseason preview. These clubs have combined for five playoff appearances in the last three years.
They’ve met twice in the regular season during that stretch, with Baltimore winning 16-13 at home Oct. 1, 2006, then losing 32-14 at San Diego on Nov. 25, 2007.
The location of the game figures to favor the Chargers, who are 20-4 at home since 2006 - the league’s second-best home record in that stretch. The Ravens, meanwhile, have dropped seven of their last eight road openers.
Playing after a short week following a Monday night game hasn’t derailed San Diego lately. The Chargers have won four straight games by an average of 17.3 points in those circumstances, although three of those wins came against Oakland.