Previewing Week 7: Ravens vs. Saints
Drew Brees, future NFL Hall of Famer, is 0-4 all-time versus the Ravens. Preview, over. Ravens win.
Okay. I know it won’t be that simple. But one simple truth is that Drew Brees will be the best player on the field Sunday and it will be up to the Ravens defense to slow him down enough to allow the Ravens offense to hang in there and compete.
Drew Brees comes into Baltimore on Sunday one touchdown shy of 500 for a career. When he gets there, Brees will be the fourth entrant into the 500 club joining Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508), and Tom Brady (501). He also comes in with an astounding 77.9 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions on the season. At 8.7 yards per attempt, the 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
The one thing favoring the Ravens is the fact that they get to welcome Brees into their house. Historically Brees is better in the cozy confines of the Superdome, out of the elements. Take him on the road though…
Brees Home (2018, three games): 83.5 CMP%, 8 TDs, 131.1 rating, 9.6 Y/A.
Brees Road (2018, two games): 70.4 CMP%, 3 TDs, 104.6 rating, 7.6 Y/A.
Also worth noting in his one road game that was also outdoors, against the New York Giants, Brees was 18 for 32 (56.3%) for 217 yards (6.8 Y/A) with zero TDs. Rating of 77.2. So there is hope for the Ravens here that Brees won’t have a career day, which would have to be an really really great day given that he has a career day by other guys standards about 10 times a year. In his career, Brees gives away about five completion percentage points, 13 rating points, one yard per attempt, and about 50 yards passing when he goes outdoors versus indoors.
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If there is a defense fit to limit what Drew Brees can do, it is the Ravens. Don Martindale using “amoeba” style looks and nickel and dime sets on early downs, has his unit at the top, or near the top in many defensive categories. Namely allowing just 4.7 Net passing yards per attempt, which takes into account sacks and yards lost on them. They are first in allowing 1st downs gained through the air. They have only allowed a score on 20.8% of their drives. Lead the NFL in sacks (26), have the best passer rating against (73.1), and best completion percentage against (55.6%)
The Ravens are also best in the league in basic stats such as scoring defense (12.8 PPG) and yardage allowed (270.8 YPG).
Some of those stats may be inflated by the 11 sack, shutout performance the Ravens put on last Sunday in Tennessee. Or the fact that four of the Ravens first six opponents are subpar offensively, and that’s putting it nicely. The Bills, Broncos, Browns, and Titans, all rank in the bottom quarter of the league in scoring on drives, and are four of the bottom five teams in quarterback rating. A combined record of 9-14-1. (Prior to Denvers win over Arizona last night).
Sacks for the Ravens are going to be a little tougher to come by this week. One of the things to look closely at will be offensive line play on both sides. The Saints O-line ranks fifth best overall according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens, 17th. Baltimore also suffered a scare last week with Alex Lewis being taken off by ambulance, but did make the team flight back home. Lewis was the teams lowest graded lineman, and we’ll see how they proceed forward. Bradley Bozeman took his spot at left guard. If Lewis can’t play, most fans want to see the rookie Orlando Brown Jr. get in the action after playing seemingly every down of the preseason. Brown would be your right tackle which would kick James Hurst to guard where he played pretty well last season.
Conversely, pass rushing against those lines will be key. Despite all the sacks, the Ravens are seventh in the league in pressure percentage, generating pressure on 37% of opposing drop backs. The Saints however, just a 25% clip generating pressure. Given a clean pocket, Joe Flacco can have himself a nice day to keep up with Brees should this turn into a shootout.
I’m critical of Marty Mornhinweg at times for not running the ball enough. Especially in games when the passing game is just off the mark. Like the Browns game. Flacco was off the mark on a handful of passes, his receivers left their hands at home, and the runners were the ones getting the job done. But the runners were only called upon sparingly when score didn’t dictate it to be so. This could easily be a game where the Ravens run game doesn’t get their legs going and Joe Flacco will be leaned on. The Saints are third best in the league at limiting explosive runs, and fifth best at stuffing the run. Some might point to teams throwing it around to keep up with the Saints air attack, leading to the Saints being best in the league in rush yards allowed. But advanced stats tell us that it’s more than that. The Saints slow teams ground games down all game long and situationally, not allowing teams to often get to 2nd and 3rd and manageable downs or conversions on the ground in short yardage situations.
Getting creative in the run game and having success would go a long way to keeping the Saints best weapon off the field. Misdirection plays with Lamar Jackson have resulted in hits and misses. But the Saints will likely be ready for that, as they use third quarterback Taysom Hill in the same way the Ravens use Jackson.
If you are going to lean on Joe Flacco, an NFC South team is the one to do it on. Flacco is pretty even across the board against other divisions and opponents. But against the NFC South, it’s All-Pro level production he gives you. 7-1 in eight games. 68.7 CMP%, 19 TDs, four INTs, 117.9 quarterback rating when he doesn’t have a rating over 90.0 against another division. 9.2 Y/A when the only other division he is over 7.0 Y/A against is the AFC East (7.5).
Jimmy Smith vs. Michael Thomas – Smith has been working his way back up to full time player after missing the first four games of the season. Thomas is one of the most targeted receivers in the league. In terms of size, 6’2” Smith presets a decent matchup for the 6’3” Thomas who doesn’t see someone this tall covering him often.
C.J. Mosley vs. Alvin Kamara – Kamara is a modern day Roger Craig. The best of the new generation hybrid running backs taking over the league like Christian McCaffrey, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, Chris Thompson, and others. Sean Payton does a great job scheming to get Kamara in open space anywhere on the field. In the middle of the field, it will be up to Mosley to lock him down and not allow for explosive, drive extending plays.
Willie Snead vs. Nickel Corner X – A few weeks back, New Orleans lost veteran nickel corner Patrick Robinson to IR with a broken ankle. They have yet to find a suitable replacement and sometimes will go with three safeties. Snead, already motivated to face his former team, just might find himself in a really favorable matchup, or mismatch against linebackers trying to cover him from the slot position. Flacco does a really good job spreading the targets relatively equally among the top three receivers. But in this case, Snead should be heavily involved in the game plan from the slot.
Football Outsiders DVOA Playoff Odds Reports gives the Saints the third best odds to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens, fourth best odds. Rams and Chiefs top the board, meaning that according to DVOA, we could be getting a preview of a possible Super Bowl LIII matchup. Check out BSL’s Jason Hirschhorn and his recent article which asks, can a special defense still win the Ravens a Super Bowl?
Spread on this game is Ravens favored by 2.5. I think thats pretty close to right on given the Ravens defense, the Saints slight regression offensively in road games, Joe Flacco typically playing better at home. Over/Under is 49.5, and I think this one goes just over. Ravens win a close one, but not expecting a shutout by any means. Ravens 27 – Saints 24.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]