The 4-2 Baltimore Ravens return home for their first home contest since September 23 looking to build off of last week’s 21-0 shutout of the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
After back-to-back sacks (theme of the day) ended the first drive for the Titans, the offense got things off on the right foot with Joe Flacco leading a 17-play 94-yard march which ended in a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Crabtree responded well after his drop-filled day in Cleveland, hauling in six passes for 93 yards and that touchdown.
A sack would end Tennessee’s next drive as well and the offense would march 52 yards in seven plays on their next drive to build the insurmountable 14-0 lead on an Alex Collins 13-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens defense was dominant in the performance, picking up a franchise record 11 sacks in the victory. It also tied for the second most number of sacks that a team has recorded in one game in NFL history.
The victory moved the Ravens into a first place tie with the Cincinnati Bengals with the Bengals holding the top spot due to the head-to-head tie breaker. The Ravens will welcome the NFC South-leading 4-1 New Orleans Saints and their high-powered offense to Baltimore this Sunday.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest.
1) Does the sack party continue?
The Ravens’ pass rush completely annihilated what is considered one of the NFL’d better offensive lines in the Titans last weekend. The Ravens had 11 sacks on the day and also picked up 12 tackles-for-loss as well. The Ravens’ social media team had some fun with the performance even making a change to their twitter handle:
Za’Darius Smith continued his strong push for a new contract, leading the charge with three sacks. He has been the Ravens most consistent pass rusher to date. Other sacks were recorded by Patrick Onwuasor (2) Matt Judon, Terrell Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Kenny Young, Anthony Levine Sr, and Chris Wormley.
I list those names to hammer home the fact that these sacks came from everywhere. Rush ends, interior linemen, linebackers, and safeties all got into the act and this will be key for the Ravens this Sunday when they take on Drew Brees and the NFL’s 3rd ranked total offense. Brees will also be looking for his first career win against the Ravens who are the only NFL team he has never beaten.
The Saints have only surrendered eight total sacks this season. However, they have played just one opponent who ranks higher than 26th in total team sacks in the Cleveland Browns who rank 16th.
Asking for a duplicate performance from last week is unreasonable but the pass rush will need to be disruptive if the Ravens are to emerge victorious.
2) How does the offensive line look if Alex Lewis isn’t able to play?
While Sunday’s game against the Titans produced many positive moments, there was one major injury scare for the Ravens when starting left guard Alex Lewis was placed on a backboard and carted out of Nissan Stadium with an apparent neck injury. Coach John Harbaugh commented on the injury after the game:
Lewis did pass all of the necessary testing after the game and was able to fly home with the team. It appears that Lewis and the Ravens were able to dodge a major injury bullet when Harbaugh provided an update on Lewis’s condition yesterday at his Wednesday press conference.
While Harbaugh seems optimistic, it would be difficult to imagine Lewis returning to the playing field just seven days removed from the injury. In his absence Sunday the Ravens went with a rookie lineman Bradley Bozeman to replace Lewis.
Many thought that the injury would lead to a shuffle along the offensive line, moving starting right tackle James Hurst to left guard and inserting rookie offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr into the starting lineup at right tackle.
On the fly, the Ravens chose to go with Bozeman but it will interesting to see how things line up Sunday on the offensive line with a full week of practice factored in.
3) Can the Ravens score with the Saints?
Much will be made this week of the strength vs. strength battle between the Ravens defense and the Saints offense. The numbers support that, garnering the story line as the two teams boast the following exploits:
- #1 in PPG allowed with 12.8
- #1 in total defense allowing 270.8 yards per game
- #2 in passing yards allowed per game at 188
- #3 in rushing yards allowed per game at 82.8
- #1 in sacks for the year with 26
- #2 in third down defense holding opponents to 26.5% conversion rate
- #1 in PPG scored with 36
- #3 in total offense racking up 424 yards per game
- #3 in passing yards for per game at 320.8
- #3 in sacks allowed for the season with 8
- #5 in yards per play with 6.5
It is fair to believe that if both of these units play their game, it is likely going to take 21+ points to win this game. The Ravens’ defense is exceptional but Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram and company have registered less than 21 points just three times in their last 19 games.
So my focus on Sunday is going to be on the Ravens offense. The Saints defense is ranked just 18th in total defense but are 30th in the league in passing yards per game allowed. They have the NFL’s number one ranked run defense, surrendering 71.4 yards per game, albeit in five games as opposed to six as most teams have played to this point.
This will need to be a big day for Flacco and the Ravens revamped receiving corps. Crabtree had a big game last week and Willie Snead IV has been consistent each game so far this season. Snead also has the revenge factor this week, facing his former team that refused to match the Ravens offer sheet for the receiver. John Brown has been quiet the last two weeks, tallying six catches for 86 yards and no scores after recording 15 catches for 338 yards and three touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season.
The Saints are tied for fifth-worst in the NFL in allowing plays of 40+ yards, having surrendered six so far this season. Look for Brown to get back on track this Sunday.
Jay Stavros– Ravens 35 Saints 28
Nolan McGraw– Ravens 30 Saints 23
Jake McDonnell– Saints 27 Ravens 24
Ian Schultz– Ravens 32 Saints 26
The Ravens will be looking for back-to-back wins on Sunday and return home after an extended road trip. They are 13-5 in their last 18 home games. They will run into a Saints team coming off of their bye week which only enhances the difficulty of the task at hand. I think the Saints will be able to score points on the vaunted Ravens defense but the offense will be able to do enough in the end to get the Ravens to 5-2.
- When: Sunday, October 21, 2018 4:05pm
- Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore,MD
- Radio: 98 Rock/WBAL 1090 AM
- TV: FOX
- Commentary: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun