Today, 1 p.m. -- Superdome, New Orleans -- Chs. 13, 9 -- 1090 AM, 97.9 FM -- Line: Saints by 1 1/2
Ravens run offense vs. Saints run defense
The Ravens haven't had a 100-yard rusher in eight straight games, which is currently the third-longest drought in the NFL. But Jamal Lewis showed some more pop in his game two weeks ago, averaging a season-best 4.6 yards per carry. New Orleans has seen its marginal run defense begin to decline recently. In their past three games, the Saints have allowed teams to average 5.6 yards per carry. They also have given up a rushing touchdown in each of those three games. The Ravens are averaging 144.4 rushing yards in indoor stadiums since 2002.
Ravens pass offense vs. Saints pass defense
Like their run defense, the Saints have struggled against the pass recently, too. Quarterbacks have completed 63 percent against New Orleans the past three games, throwing six touchdown passes and one interception. Saints cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas have yet to intercept a pass this season. The biggest concern for the Ravens is protecting quarterback Steve McNair, who is two weeks removed from a Grade 2 concussion. New Orleans pressures from all angles, with eight players recording at least one sack. Tight end Todd Heap, who creates the biggest mismatch problems, has scored three touchdowns in the past four games. During that same span, receiver Mark Clayton has 22 receptions for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
Saints run offense vs. Ravens run defense
The Ravens have allowed just two running backs to gain 60 yards against them this season. They lead the NFL in rushing average, allowing 2.7 yards per carry. Saints running back Deuce McAllister has rebounded from last season's torn right anterior cruciate ligament, rushing for 74 yards per game (17th in the league) and scoring four touchdowns. But rookie Reggie Bush has had a difficult time running the ball, averaging 3.0 yards on 65 carries. The Saints could look to attack the left side where tackle Jammal Brown has a size advantage over defensive end Terrell Suggs. Linebacker Ray Lewis is 15th in the NFL with 50 tackles.
Saints pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense
Cornerback Samari Rolle has become the weak link of the Ravens' secondary. In the past four games, he has been beaten for touchdown passes of 58, 31, 42 and 72 yards. Rolle likely will be matched up against receiver Joe Horn, who is coming off his biggest game of the season (six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia). The Ravens need to find a way to pressure quarterback Drew Brees, who has been sacked six times (the fewest among NFC starters). Brees also has been intercepted just twice in his past 170 throws. Bush has made an impact on the passing game, leading all running backs with 38 catches. Rookie receiver Marques Colston, who has size at 6 feet 4, has an NFL rookie-best 414 yards receiving and four touchdown catches.
In three home games, New Orleans has come up with four big plays on special teams: a blocked punt, blocked field goal, punt return touchdown and a fumble recovery on punt coverage. Saints kicker John Carney is 13-for-14 on field goals this season, including a game-winning 31-yarder against Philadelphia two weeks ago. Ravens kicker Matt Stover has connected on 30 straight field goals but he has only one in his past three games. The Ravens' coverage teams rank in the bottom third of the NFL.
The bye week took the momentum away from the hot Saints but it gave time to the Ravens to regroup. The Ravens' firing of offensive coordinator Jim Fassel should serve as a spark for an offense begging for a change. The Ravens haven't lost a game immediately after the bye since 2001, winning by an average margin of 10.7 points.
It's funny that coach Brian Billick compared the Saints to Mother Teresa when it's his offense that has needed charity all season. But the dismissal of Fassel was the right decision. And the players will respond to it.