When the New Orleans Saints (4-6) face the Baltimore Ravens (6-4) on Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees will be trying to beat the only National Football League team he has never defeated. The Ravens on the other hand will be trying to keep pace in a highly competitive AFC North, a division in which every team is at least two games above .500.
To learn a bit more about the 2014 Ravens we spoke to Matt Stevens of Baltimore Beatdown. How good has quarterback Joe Flacco been this year? Does Baltimore have any weaknesses on defense? Matt answers these questions and more below.
1 - Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is having what most would consider an average-to-good year thus far (17TDs, 8 INTs, 90.7 QB rating). Football Outsiders has him ranked 12th in the NFL (7.6% DVOA) and ESPN rates him as the 14th quarterback in the league with a 63.7 QBR. What do you think of Flacco's year to this point? For a quarterback considered among the best in the NFL, do you think he is giving the team what he is expected to?
I think Flacco is showing a little better than he has in previous years. The addition of Steve Smith is helping him make that transition a little easier as is having an offensive line that is one of the best in the league at protecting the quarterback. However, like the Flacco of previous years, he will have these games that make you think he is the best in the league followed by a game that you have question if he was throwing blind all game long. Consistency seems to be Flacco's biggest issue and that is something that I think having more weapons around him would assist. So to answer your question a little more on the point, Flacco is having an average year and that isn't too bad really with the defense and rushing attack that he has helping him out.
2 - The Ravens have always been known for their strong running game. This year, the source of their running success has been an unlikely one in veteran RB Justin Forsett, who has 721 yards on the season (5.4 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Apart from Forsett, what other Ravens running back(s) should Saints fans watch closely (read: worry about) on Monday night?
Outside of Forsett, the only other running back to really pay attention to is the rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro. The kid has shown some shades of Jamal Lewis in being a bigger back that can lower his head and drag a defender 5 yards or be able to hit the outside and turn on the jets enough to gain some separation. He is still raw and needs to work on his pass blocking, but in short yardage, you'll probably see him. The only other running back on the roster is Bernard Pierce, but he sees few carries and appears to be third on the depth chart. Kyle Juszczyk is the Ravens' fullback and has been a weapon at times, though he is not frequently used as a receiver like he should be. However, he is a good lead blocker and has helped pave the way during some short yardage situations as well.
3 - Baltimore as is often the case, has a very good defense this year (ranked 8th in the NFL by Football Outsiders, with a -6.1% DVOA). If you were Saints head coach Sean Payton, how would you go about exploiting this Ravens defense?
Pass and pass often. You have to run the ball simply to keep the Ravens honest, but the weak point of this defense is through the air. With a limited roster of corners entering into the 2014 season, the Ravens have had injuries to just about every corner to put on pads this year which is leaving us with mid-season castoffs from other teams starting for us. With Brees and company being one of the best teams at throwing the ball, the Saints are one of the toughest matchups the Ravens will face this year solely because of their ability to hit the big play through the air.
4 - Unlike Baltimore, New Orleans has fielded one of the worst defenses in the NFL this season (ranked 28th in the NFL by Football Outsiders, with a 10.0% DVOA). That said if you were Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan looking for a glimmer of hope, what would you try to attack in the Ravens' offense?
You have to start by stopping the run. The Ravens have had no issues running the ball down opponent's throats if it works, but they have backed off of it if the defense is gearing up to stop it and the offense is able to put points on the board. From there, pin your ears back and get after Flacco and you can fluster him into being off target enough to hold the Ravens offense back. Outside of that, double team Steve Smith and you can take away any consistency in the passing attack of the Ravens as Torrey Smith and the younger receivers have been very hot or cold all year long in their route running.
5 - How do you see this game play out? Who wins and why?
I have been absolutely abysmal at this question all year long and it usually goes the complete opposite of my prediction, so I hope it continues again. But I actually have the Saints winning this one 31 to the Ravens 20. I think Brees gets over some of his early year troubles and the offense hits its stride against an incredibly damaged Ravens secondary. One the Saints pull away, the Ravens abandon the run and it makes the offense far too predictable to put up enough points to keep it competitive.
Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to speak with us.
For more coverage on the Baltimore Ravens, please visit Baltimore Beatdown.