Three things to watch for as the Ravens return home to take on the Saints

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.

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Chris Wormley picks up one the Ravens franchise record 11 sacks this past Sunday in Tennessee. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

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.

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Will we see the first career start for Orlando Brown Jr. this Sunday if Alex Lewis can’t go? Image Credit: Getty Images

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.

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John Brown will be looking to find the endzone for the first time since his 33-yard TD catch in Pittsburgh. Image Credit: Getty Images

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:

Ravens Defense

  • #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

Saints Offense

  • #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.

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While all the talk has been about the Ravens defense vs the Saints offense, Joe Flacco’s offense is the unit to watch for Sunday. Image Credit: AP

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.

Predictions:

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.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

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Podcast Episode 16: Time to book a February weekend in Atlanta, right? Featuring Logan Levy of Baltimore Beatdown

Welcome to Episode 16 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Kicking off this week’s show is a full recap of the Ravens’ 47-3 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills (3:19). Along with revealing our players of the game (19:14) and discussing who’s trending (24:29), we discussed Lamar Jackson‘s regular season debut, the impressive effort put forth by the new wide receiver core, and the defense’s dominance. If you watched from home, Nolan and Ian will fill you in on what was featured on the new corner scoreboards at M&T Bank Stadium. They’ll also give an estimate of how full the crowd looked.

Even though Sunday could not have gone any better, the Ravens will head to Cincinnati on a short week to tangle with the Bengals on Thursday Night Football. We’ll tell you what to watch for (33:42) as the Ravens begin a five-game stretch with four of those contests taking place on the road.

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest – Baltimore Beatdown Editor & Take it to the Bank podcast host – Logan Levy, who shares his thoughts on the Ravens’ dominant win (44:55). Levy also reveals his pick for Thursday’s game and ponders which areas of the contest will likely decide the outcome.

Ravens fans in the northern Maryland/Southern York County area: Come celebrate our first sponsorship on Thursday night at Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. Happy Hour is from 4-6 and you can also catch the Ravens game against the Bengals at 8:20. Specials are $3.50 Shock Top drafts & $8.77 half-rack ribs. We hope to see you there! 

Over the weekend, the Orioles eclipsed 100 losses on the 2018 season. Our next segment (1:03:10) dives into the club’s questionable decision to sit Adam Jones to “get a look” at other outfielders like Joey Rickard and John Andreoli. Needless to say, you won’t want to miss this rant. Jake, Nolan, and Ian also call into question the reasoning of Orioles ownership as to of why the brass of the team has not addressed the fanbase yet over the franchise’s direction.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Ravens & Orioles players to wear the number 16 (1:17:24).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloudiTunes, and now Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!

Eight thoughts following Ravens’ 47-3 win over Bills

BALTIMORE — Just like I predicted on the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast, the Ravens blew out the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium to kick off the 2018 regular season. The score was 47-3. Six different players on offense scored touchdowns. The defense forced two turnovers and collected six sacks. Buffalo never stood a chance.

Here’s eight takeaways from Baltimore’s nearly-perfect win.

1. A balanced offense is a good offense

A common knock on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been his tendency to abandon the run. Due to the poor weather conditions, we all expected the Ravens to rely heavily on the run, but that wasn’t necessarily the case against the Bills.

Collectively, the Ravens ran the ball 34 times and passed 38 times. Favorable field position and numerous starters getting pulled early left the box score looking like a preseason game, and for good reason. Mornhinweg’s balanced play-calling, along with the presence of Lamar Jackson, gave Buffalo’s defense fits.

2. Ravens’ defense dominates in historic fashion

I don’t think the Ravens defense could have started off their season any better than they did on Sunday. In the first half, the unit held the Bills to 0 first downs and 33 offensive yards. It marked the first time in franchise history that the Ravens defense held an opponent without a first down for the entire first half. The previous record was two first downs in a half – set in 2000 against the Bengals and again in 2008 versus the Raiders.

The Bills finished the game with 153 total yards, but many of those came in garbage time when veterans like Terrell Suggs had already exited. The Bills even trotted first-round rookie quarterback Josh Allen out there, which they were not anticipating, but Nathan Peterman was that bad. Peterman attempted 15 passes, completing five of them for 24 yards, and came out of the game with a rating of 0. Ouch.

3. This week, Joe Flacco was elite

After coming back from a torn ACL and a back injury over the last two seasons, Ravens media spent all of training camp telling us how great Joe Flacco looked at practice every day. Whether or not his camp greatness translated to a regular season game remained to be seen, but Flacco’s first outing of the 2018 season was a successful one.

Against Buffalo, Flacco went 25-for-34 for 236 yards with three touchdown passes. He was effective and did a great job spreading the ball around to different receivers. He used his receivers (11 receptions, three touchdowns), tight ends (eight receptions), and running backs (six receptions). Flacco’s had a bad habit of relying too heavily on running back and tight-end check-downs, but on Sunday he was aggressive and took more risks, even in the pouring rain.

Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium has been a house of horrors for Flacco, but hopefully he can carry his success from this game into Thursday night.

4. Jackson already proving to be a big asset

Speaking of Jackson, we saw more than him on Sunday than we anticipated. That’s a good thing. With the Ravens up 40-0 in the third quarter, Jackson got to play the final 25 minutes as the starting quarterback after being used as a decoy.

Jackson was mainly used as a runner when he ran with the starters, finishing the game with 39 yards on seven carries. Even when he didn’t get the ball, Buffalo’s defense had to account for him and send defenders his way. As the season progresses it will be interesting to see how defenses adjust to the Ravens’ packages featuring Jackson. For now, it gives opposing defenses an extra element to devote practice time to, and that can only help the Ravens.

5. The retooled receiving corps could not have had a better debut

The Ravens signed receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown this offseason, sending $20 million in combined guaranteed money their way.

On Sunday, their investment paid off. Snead caught four passes, while Crabtree and Brown each tallied three catches for 131 combined yards and a touchdown apiece. Each of these receivers brings something different to the table, and the Ravens found ways to use their varied skill-sets. They’ll be tested against better defenses, but the Ravens could not have asked for a better start with this group.

6. The offensive line remains a concern

Coming into Sunday, the offensive line was considered the worst position group on Baltimore’s roster, and that remains the same even after Sunday’s huge win. Flacco only got sacked twice, but he constantly had to scramble out of the pocket.

Starting running back Alex Collins couldn’t find any holes to run through, contributing just 13 yards on seven carries for an average of 1.9 yards-per-carry. Kenneth Dixon had better luck, leading the team with 44 rushing yards on 13 carries. However, he left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

The Ravens got by against a bad Bills defense. When the Ravens face pass rushers like Myles Garrett and Von Miller, the offense will pay if the line struggles.

7. Pass rush shines with mix of youth and old-timers

With Terrell Suggs’ 36th birthday on the horizon, the Ravens will rely on their young pass rushers to step up and play a bigger role this season. Suggs continued to draft his Hall of Fame resume with a sack of his own on Sunday, but we also saw Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, and Kenny Young break into the backfield and record sacks. Not only that, but cornerback Tavon Young got involved too and led the team with two sacks.

It’s going to be important for the Ravens to limit Suggs’ snap count this season, especially early on. Several times on Sunday, I noticed that Suggs remained on the sideline for several pass rush situations, with Matt Judon and either Smith or Williams lined up on the ends. Not only will keeping Suggs rested help his motor in December, but he can coach up this talented group of outside linebackers. That will pay dividends in future seasons after Suggs calls it a career.

8. Despite terrible weather, Baltimore gathers a decent crowd for much-needed support

Weather-wise – Sunday, the entire weekend, the entire summer – have all been horrible. It’s also no secret that attendance at Ravens games has seen a massive dip in recent seasons. When I saw Sunday’s forecast earlier in the week, I was very concerned that the stadium would be half empty again at 1:00.

Judging from this picture from WNST‘s Nestor Aparico, along with seeing the stands on live television, M&T Bank Stadium was not full, but the crowd was a decent size in spite of the weather. The Ravens worked very hard over the offseason to revitalize a disgruntled fanbase. They drafted Lamar Jackson, they put in the corner scoreboards, and they reduced concession prices. A disappointing crowd would have brought all of those sad feelings back and put a damper on the season opener, but Baltimore avoided that on Sunday.

As the game went into the second half, a good amount of fans left after getting soaked. That’s understandable, and the stadium needs to be rocking for the next Ravens home game on Sept. 23 against Denver. All factors considered, I’m sure that John Harbaugh and the Ravens appreciate the fans who showed up and fought through the down-pouring rain.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun