It has been four seasons since the last time the Los Angeles Chargers faced the Baltimore Ravens. They faced them twice that year. Once in the regular season, and the other was in the postseason.
Week 16 at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Chargers faced the red hot rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson that had a unique style of being able to run and make the opponent miss. They beat the Chargers 22-10. A key play was a 68-yard pass from Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews for a touchdown.
Due to the loss, the Chargers would miss out on being the first seed, but both squads knew after the game that they would see each other again.
They did in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Then defensive coordinator Gus Bradley tried a new defensive scheme for two reasons. One was to combat what Jackson could do on the field, while the other was the lack of linebackers due to injury.
Bradley had seven defensive backs on the field at all times. The pass rush was able to get to Jackson often. They sacked him seven times, and the pressure kept coming. The Chargers defense created three turnovers.
"We didn't let [Jackson] hurt us with his feet too much," defensive end Joey Bosa said. "You see what he can do, if he can make one guys miss, he's off to the races. I think that's the main focus this week."
It was 23-3 in the middle of the fourth quarter after a Melvin Gordon touchdown. The fans at M&T Bank Stadium were antsy, calling for veteran quarterback Joe Flacco to be inserted into the game. He was a Super Bowl MVP maybe he had some juice left for one more run.
Head coach John Harbaugh did the intelligent thing by letting Jackson stay in and figure it out. The young quarterback threw a 31-yard and seven-yard touchdown to Michael Crabtree to bring the team to within six points. The next Ravens drive Chargers defensive end Uchenna Nwosu knocked the ball out of his hand, and Melvin Ingram recovered it to secure the victory.
Things have changed a lot since then.
The following year, Jackson became the Unanimous NFL MVP after scoring 45 total touchdowns and leading the Ravens to a first seed in the NFL playoffs.
Jackson has led the Ravens to the playoffs each year since taking over as a rookie. He has also grown as a quarterback.
"He's elevated his passing a lot," Chargers safety Derwin James said. "He's making throws from versus his rookie year, not to say he couldn't throw his rookie year, but he's making throws. He's more comfortable making checks, and like I say when he's scrambling around before, he's looking to run, but now he's looking to scramble and still make plays down the field to Hollywood and those guys, so he's definitely evolved his game."
Baltimore has 16 players on IR and still sits at the top of the AFC North. They are 4-1 record because of the play from their quarterback.
On Monday Night Football, Jackson put on a show against the Indianapolis Colts. He threw for four touchdowns and accounted for over 500 yards of offense.
"He's making throws," James said. "He's more comfortable making checks, and like I said when he's scrambling around before, he's looking around, but now he's looking to scramble and still make plays down the field of Hollywood and those guys. So, he's definitely evolved his game."
Marquise "Hollywood" Brown has exploded onto the scene this season, being that deep threat that Jackson has needed for years. He had nine receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns on Monday. He has battled injuries in the past but is fully healthy this season. He is going to be a problem.
"He's a guy that you have to know," Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "But that's what we're used to; we play [Chiefs WR] Tyreek Hill, we play [Raiders WR Henry] Ruggs [III] we play a lot of speed receivers that do that. It's just another one on our list."
The Chargers have played some mobile quarterbacks so far this season in Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, and even Derek Carr, but Jackson is different.
"We've had a lot of opportunities against some mobile guys, but there's nobody that can compare to Lamar Jackson and his mobility," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. explained. "The way he can run, and he has shakes, he's not trying to take a slide.
"This will be a new dynamic at the quarterback position, and they play a lot of big personnel. They play 13, they play three tight ends. We saw that a lot yesterday, it was a goal-line football game. We'll see that again this week with the Ravens."
The Chargers have also not been very good against the run this season. Scratch that – they have the worst defense against the run giving up 157.6 yards per game.
James has an easy solution for fixing it.
"It's about whooping the man in front of you," James said.
The Chargers weren't able to do that last Sunday. They are coming off allowing Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to run for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
They won't face running backs like that this weekend. They have Latavius Murray, Ty'son Williams, and Devonta Freeman as their main backs, but the threat is Jackson taking off.
"We have great defensive line coaches and edge coaches that are definitely going to work on a great game plan to be able to contain him," Harris said. "Try to contain him as best as we can."
When listening to Harris break things down sometimes, he sounds like a coach.
"We're going to play tons of man and try to contain Lamar Jackson from running," Harris Jr. said. "He's been able to make the throws, and he's beating man coverage. That's what I'm seeing — 'Hollywood' Brown has been able to take the top off defenses."
Jackson is 8-0 in the month of October and is coming off his best game as a pro. The Chargers defense needs to be at their best because Jackson is a dual-threat and could carve them up if they aren't careful.
"We are excited to get another opportunity to get out there show what we can do on defense," James said. "That's what's so great about his game, and you can't dwell on the last week you get another chance to go out there and fix whatever happened."