RAVENS: Perhaps the most impressive thing about Joe Flacco's performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, aside, of course, from the five touchdowns in a little over 16 minutes, was how he spread the ball around. Eight different receivers caught at least two passes as the Ravens continue to look for other contributors with Dennis Pitta out. Flacco has thrown eight touchdown passes and one interception in his last three games. He hasn't been sacked in four of six games this season.
FALCONS: Ryan's 1,850 passing yards trail only Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck. His 12 touchdown passes are tied with Joe Flacco for sixth in the NFL. Since 2012, only Peyton Manninghas a better completion percentage than Ryan. With Jones, White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester, Ryan has targets everywhere. The Falcons lead the NFL with 32 plays of 20 yards or more. The Falcons rely heavily on their backs and tight ends to help in pass blocking.
RAVENS: Justin Forsett continues to be the top option in a running attack that averages 132.8 yards per game, ninth in the NFL. Forsett is fifth in the league in rushing yards (408) and first in yards per carry (6.4). He shares the league lead with the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray with six rushes of 20 yards or more. The Ravens used three different running backs on the first four plays against Tampa Bay. They are having the most success running behind right guard Marshal Yanda.
FALCONS: Atlanta uses four different running backs as Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers,Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman all have 23 or more carries and factor in the passing game. Jackson leads the team with 69 carries, but Smith has five touchdowns, including scores in four straight games. The Falcons are averaging 103.2 rushing yards per game, 21st in the NFL. They do have only 136 rushing attempts. Just seven teams have fewer.
RAVENS: Nose tackle Brandon Williams' ability to occupy blockers and get penetration has made the Ravens' run defense even more formidable. They are allowing just 90.7 rushing yards per game, making them the seventh stingiest run defense in the league. They've also surrendered just three rushing touchdowns. Rookie weak-side linebacker C.J. Mosley is tied for fifth in the NFL with 57 tackles. Stopping the Falcons' running game and making them one dimensional is a must this week.
FALCONS: The Falcons' defense ranks 31st overall and it's been equally bad against the run as it has been against the pass. Atlanta is allowing 141.3 rushing yards per game — just four teams are giving up more — and they've surrendered 12 rushing touchdowns. No other team has given up more than seven. Much of the damage came in Week Four when they gave up 241 rushing yards and four touchdowns to the Minnesota Vikings. Linebacker Paul Worrilow is third in the NFL with 64 tackles.
RAVENS: This group had its best game of the season against the Buccaneers, sacking Mike Glennon five times — matching their sack total from the previous five games — and intercepting him once. Jimmy Smith became the first defensive back to get an interception this season. He'll likely draw the assignment of Falcons' star Julio Jones, leaving Lardarius Webb on Roddy White. No. 3 corner Dominique Franks, a former Falcon, will be in Matt Ryan's cross hairs.
FALCONS: After last week's loss to the Chicago Bears, Falcons coach Mike Smith bemoaned his team's inability to limit big plays. Five of Jay Cutler's completions accounted for 197 yards last week. The cornerback duo of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford has been under fire with former Raven Josh Wilson serving as the No.3 corner. Atlanta has just two interceptions and seven sacks all season, totals that rank among the lowest in the league. Pass-rushing specialist Osi Umenyiora has one sack.
RAVENS: Jacoby Jones still hasn't broken a long touchdown yet, but he showed much better judgment and assertiveness last week, averaging 40.5 yards on two kickoff returns. He shared punt return duties with rookie Michael Campanaro. The Ravens' coverage teams have been solid in recent weeks and Justin Tucker remains among the league leaders in touchbacks. Sam Koch has punted just 17 times this season, tied for fewest among AFC punters.
FALCONS: Hester is back to being the game-breaking return man he was earlier in his career in Chicago. He ranks third in the league in punt return average (12.5) and 10th in kickoff return average (23.9). His 62-yard punt return touchdown against the Buccaneers in Week Three made him the NFL's all-time leader in return touchdowns. Expect Koch to avoid kicking the ball to the center of the field. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant has made 8-of-9 attempts this season.
RAVENS: The Ravens have road games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers after this week, but coach John Harbaugh has done a good job of keeping his team in the moment. The Ravens rank fifth in fewest penalties and 10th in turnover differential. They are 2-0 against the NFC South and they've outscored the Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers by 86-27. They also are 12-1 at home against NFC teams during the Harbaugh era.
FALCONS: The Falcons have lost three straight games to fall to 2-4 on the season. Since losing in the NFC championship game in 2012, the Falcons have won just six of their past 22 games. They are just 1-10 during that span on the road with their one win coming last December in Buffalo. Ryan said this week that the team has stressed finishing games after the Falcons have been outscored 49-0 in the fourth quarter over the last four games. Atlanta has a minus three turnover ratio.
The Falcons aren't the Buccaneers. Atlanta has had a lead or at least been tied in the third quarter in four straight games. They have one of the better groups of offensive skilled players in the league. Ryan won't get rattled like Glennon clearly did last week. But right now, the Ravens are a more balanced team than the Falcons. They are getting healthier and they are at home. The Ravens don't lose often at home, and they understand the importance of this game with matchups versus the Bengals and Steelers looming. Flacco will get the best of Ryan this time around, but the Falcons' offense will cause them some problems.
- Pro Football
- Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Joe Flacco
- National Football Conference
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Jimmy Smith
- Jacoby Jones
- Mike Glennon
- Devin Hester
- NFC South
- Carolina Panthers
- Dallas Cowboys
- Indianapolis Colts
- Minnesota Vikings
- Steven Jackson