The Ravens know they’ll have their defensive hands full when the New Orleans Saints come to town this weekend. Baltimore is the next stop on the Drew Brees Magical History Tour, and the NFL’s top offense is averaging 36 points and 424 yards per game.
That will be quite a test, even for the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense that just pitched a shutout and shattered a franchise record with 11 sacks against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
It won’t be the last.
The remaining 10 games of the regular season feature seven matchups against teams that currently rank among the league’s top 10 in scoring offense, which would not bode well for the Ravens’ playoff hopes if the remainder of the schedule was not counter-balanced with seven of the 11 lowest-ranked teams in scoring defense.
What does all this mean?
If past performance means anything, it means that you’re going to have trouble taking your eyes of your flat screen, because there are going to be a lot of crazy games that go right down to the wire.
It means that Joe Flacco will need to engineer a lot more drives like the one that blacked out most of the first quarter Sunday if he wants to keep up with the likes of Brees, rookie sensation Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and, of course, Andy Dalton and Ben Roethlisberger.
It means that the Ravens are going to have to do all the things they did so well on offense against the Titans, except they’re going to have to do them against a bunch of teams that do them better.
Don’t misunderstand. Nobody’s saying that the Ravens aren’t also an imposing offensive team. They rank ninth in the league with an average of nearly 400 total yards per game and rank a respectable 12th in scoring with an average of 25.5 points. Their plus-76 point differential ranks behind only the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.
They might be able to improve on those numbers against a bunch of pretty explosive teams that have been giving up almost as many points as they’ve been scoring.
The Saints, for instance, are allowing 28 points per game and rank 26th in scoring defense. The Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs, who host the Ravens on back-to-back weekends in early December, also rank among the most porous defenses in the league.
The Falcons rank ninth in scoring (28.7 points) and have a minus-25 point differential. The Steelers and Bengals, who will visit M&T Bank Stadium before and after the Ravens bye week, respectively, also rank among the league’s top 10 scoring teams, yet outscore their opponents by an average of less than three points.
That dichotomy has been playing out in some amazing games around the league over the past few weeks. The Patriots and Chiefs just delivered one of the most exciting Sunday night games in history, as Tom Brady barely outdueled Mahomes in a game that featured 83 points and was decided by a last-second field goal.
The Monday night game also delivered a classic shootout, with Aaron Rodgers staving off a big upset bid by the San Francisco 49ers and understudy quarterback C.J. Beathard at Lambeau Field.
So, the wild card in all this is Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense, which is allowing an average of just under 13 points per game and has to be feeling pretty good about itself after Sunday’s dominant performance.
Now, there’s just the small matter of doubling down on that performance against a Saints team that celebrated the growing legend of Brees at the expense of the Washington Redskins a couple of weeks ago and has had all that time to prepare for the Ravens.
Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged as much while he broke down the victory over the Titans during his Monday press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center.
“Winning a game like that on the road doesn’t mean nearly as much if you can’t follow it up,’’ Harbaugh said.
Obviously, the Ravens are configured as well as any team to slow down the Saints, who have been held under 33 points just once this year (by the occasionally surprising Cleveland Browns) and have scored 43 or more points in three of their five games.
The Ravens also appear very capable for exploiting the vulnerable Saints defense, which is why the wise guys in Vegas posted them as a slight favorite and project a fairly high-scoring game.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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