I bet the Ravens (6-4) are upset the Saints (4-6) are the last NFC South team left on the schedule.
In their previous three games against the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens have outscored the NFC South 115-34, and it hasn’t even been that close.
Joe Flacco’s five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes against the Bucs, Steve Smith Sr.’s two-touchdown revenge against his former Panthers team and the defense’s five-sack outing against the Falcons have highlighted the Ravens’ 2014 dominance against this weak division.
Baltimore hopes it can complete the sweep Monday night in New Orleans.
Last time these two teams clashed, the Ravens turned in a full team effort for a 30-24 victory against the then-defending Super Bowl champions in Baltimore.
Ray Rice starred on offense as both the team’s leading rusher and receiver with 31 carries for 153 yards and one touchdown on the ground and five catches for 80 yards and one touchdown through the air.
Drew Brees kept the Saints in the game until the end, however, with 267 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Four years later, both teams have cycled through players, but the quarterbacks on each side have stayed put. It will be on Flacco and Brees to lead their respective squads to a win in the primetime, ESPN-televised matchup in the Mercedes Benz Super Dome.
For the Ravens, Michael Campanaro (thigh) and Jah Reid (hand) have already been ruled out for Monday night’s game. Kyle Juszczyk (hand) and Marshal Yanda (knee) were the other players who missed practice time with injury-related concerns, but both are listed as probable to play in New Orleans.
On the Saints’ injury front, Kyle Knox (hand) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) have been ruled out. Robert Meachem (ankle) is questionable to play. Other notable players listed on Saturday’s final injury report include Mark Ingram (shoulder), Pierre Thomas (rib-shoulder), Keenan Lewis (knee) and Curtis Lofton (ankle), who are all considered probable.
Ravens Offense vs. Saints Defense
Coming off their bye week, the Ravens offense should be rested and prepared for the showdown in New Orleans. Baltimore’s offense, however, is notorious for getting off to slow starts on the road, and after more than two weeks off, that lull could be prolonged.
Look for small, shifty running back Justin Forsett to get involved early. The Ravens’ 10th-ranked rushing attack, averaging 124.1 yards per game, should help crowd the Saints’ defense at the line of scrimmage and open up the intermediate and deep passing lanes for Smith Sr., Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels.
I heard on the radio earlier this week that, ”the Saints’ defense has been very offense friendly.” Issues on third down plagued them most recently in last week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but throughout the entire season, this New Orleans unit has been hard-pressed to stop opponents.
With seemingly half of their secondary on Injured Reserve, including their top free-agent acquisition, free safety Jarius Byrd, the Saints defense ranks 24th in the NFL in average passing yards allowed per game (255.2).
If the Ravens offensive line reverts back to their run blocking and pass protecting success from earlier this season, the Ravens should be able to find a quick rhythm and exploit the porous New Orleans defense.
Ravens Defense vs. Saints Offense
This matchup has the making of becoming one of the games where Ravens players, coaches and fans alike really notice cornerback Jimmy Smith’s absence.
Against the Titans two Sundays ago, the Ravens’ defense did settle in eventually, but left holes open across the field on the first few drives. Tennessee’s rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger may have not exposed every mistake, but if the same situation arises Monday, Brees surely will.
Cornerback Danny Gorrer, signed days before the Ravens’ last game, logged an interception in his 2014 Baltimore debut and should be more up to speed with the playbook come Monday. He will need to team up with Lardarius Webb on the other side to stop a potent Saints passing game that ranks 3rd in the NFL and features Brees, wide receivers Marques Colston and Kenny Stills and tight end Jimmy Graham.
Much of the brunt of stopping Graham will fall on the Ravens safeties and rookie linebacker C.J. Mosely. They should take a page out of the Bengals’ repertoire last week and press him at the line while trying to put pressure on Brees with the pass rush. Elvis Dumervil, who is tied for second in the league with 10.5 sacks thus far, will be a key player in determining the success of New Orleans’ offense.
With the Saints’ offensive line, featuring former Ravens left guard Ben Grubbs, playing cohesively, it will be tough for Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and mates to generate consistent pressure on Brees.
Cue the “I wish Jimmy Smith was healthy” comments…
After winning 11 straight home contests, the New Orleans Saints have dropped two in a row. With Baltimore coming into town on 15 days of rest, a third straight home loss will send Who Dat nation into a frenzy.
Though they have periodically struggled on both sides of the football this season, I predict a sound victory for the Ravens this Monday night. Flacco should be able to orchestrate his offense efficiently against a very weak Saints defense. Forsett should be in for a big rushing day as well. I think Dumervil will grab another sack, while C.J. Mosely, albeit a few significant gains, will contain Graham opportunely. And just for old times sake, Jacoby Jones will take a kickoff return back to the house, reminiscent of the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory in 2013 in the Mercedes Benz Super Dome, but this time, the power will not fail. The Saints’ 14-game winning streak in primetime will be snapped come Tuesday morning.
Put money on this (or don’t because I could be wrong): Ravens 34, Saints 24
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