Scouting report for Sunday's Ravens-Falcons game

RAVENS PASSING GAME: Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson threw 18 times in the first half of the Ravens’ 34-17 win over the Oakland Raiders, with mixed results. He threw a perfect deep ball to tight end Mark Andrews for a 74-yard gain but also threw two interceptions and looked tentative at times when he had to decide between run and pass. Wide receiver John Brown has suffered most in the Jackson-led attack, catching just two passes on eight targets in the last two games after he was Joe Flacco’s favorite deep target early in the season. The Ravens’ tight ends, on the other hand, caught six of Jackson’s 14 completions against the Raiders. Flacco returned to practice on Thursday, and the Falcons are preparing for both quarterbacks, knowing the Ravens are unlikely to announce their starter ahead of Sunday.

FALCONS PASSING GAME: Matt Ryan is having one of his best statistical seasons, completing 71.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. He’s thrown for 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions. But the Falcons have gone cold over their last three games, averaging just 17.3 points in that span. They’re certainly not short on big-play threats. Julio Jones remains arguably the best wide receiver in the sport, with 84 catches for 1,305 yards through 11 games. Rookie Calvin Ridley has eight touchdown catches. Running back Tevin Coleman has five touchdown catches out of the backfield. Ryan is protected by one of the best pass blockers in the league in left tackle Jake Matthews.

EDGE: Falcons

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RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Jackson-led running renaissance continued against the Raiders, as the Ravens piled up 242 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. They dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for almost 22 minutes in the second half. Jackson has transformed them from one of the worst running offenses in the league to the best over the last few weeks. He gained 71 yards against Oakland, and breakout star Gus Edwards ran for 118 yards on 23 carries in his first career start. Midseason acquisition Ty Montgomery also had his best game as a Raven, with 51 yards on eight carries.

FALCONS RUNNING GAME: The Falcons rely heavily on their passing game, ranking 31st in the league in rushing yards per game and yards per carry. Coleman leads them with 506 rushing yards, but he’s carried just eight times in each of the last two games. The Falcons have missed running back Devonta Freeman, who’s on injured reserve because of a groin injury.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage against the Raiders, holding them to 67 yards on 19 carries. They rank third in the league in rushing defense and have allowed opponents to average just 3.9 yards per carry. Interior linemen Michael Pierce, Brent Urban and Brandon Williams continue to receive outstanding run-defense grades from Pro Football Focus.

FALCONS RUSH DEFENSE: This is the Falcons’ greatest weakness. They allow the eighth-most rushing yards per game and the third-most yards per attempt. And they’re trending in the wrong direction, having allowed opponents 164 yards per game over the last three weeks. Pro Football Focus grades Atlanta linebackers Foyesade Oluokun, Duke Riley and De’Vondre Campbell as poor to middling run defenders. The team’s best run defenders are tackles Grady Jarrett and Jack Crawford.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: With slot cornerback Tavon Young out against the Raiders, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey played together for most of the game. They helped limit Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to 16 completions on 34 attempts. After the Ravens pass rush had gone cold for several games, linebacker Matthew Judon sacked Carr on three straight possessions. His strip sack set up Terrell Suggs for a game-clinching touchdown return. Overall, the Ravens rank second in the league in fewest passing yards allowed and first in fewest yards allowed per attempt.

FALCONS PASS DEFENSE: The Falcons give up yards through the air almost as quickly as they accumulate them, ranking sixth-worst in the league in pass defense. They allow teams to convert 51.5 percent of their third-down attempts, second-worst in the league. They don’t have an elite pass rusher, as defensive end Takkarist McKinley leads them with six sacks. Their primary cornerbacks — Desmond Trufant, Brian Poole and Robert Alford — have struggled in coverage.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Cyrus Jones broke a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in last Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, and his average for the season rose to a stellar 14.1 yards per return. Justin Tucker has made 21 of 23 field-goal attempts and has been perfect since his missed extra point in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints. Sam Koch ranks 14th in the league in net punting average and tied for sixth in punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. After an uncharacteristically poor start, the Ravens have risen to sixth in Football Outsiders’ overall DVOA rankings for special teams.

FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS: Veteran Matt Bryant has made all 14 of his field-goal attempts, including four from 50 yards or more. Matt Bosher ranks last in the league in net punting average and 25th in punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Marvin Hall has averaged a solid 26.1 yards on 16 kick returns. The Falcons struggle in punt coverage, and Justin Hardy has averaged just 4.9 yards on 14 punt returns.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have found a new identity, with Jackson leading a relentless rushing offense that eats up the game clock. The Falcons represent the greatest test to date for this version of the team, but the Ravens know they must win to stay at the front of the AFC wild-card pack. That’s especially true with a daunting trip to Kansas City looming.

FALCONS INTANGIBLES: The Falcons are reeling, having lost three games in a row to fall out of playoff contention in the NFC. Their once-fearsome offense has failed to score more than 19 points in any of those losses, and their banged-up defense is one of the worst in the league. Just two years after the Falcons played in the Super Bowl, some fans have begun to call for the ouster of coach Dan Quinn.

EDGE: Ravens

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PREDICTION: The Falcons can’t be thrilled to face a Jackson-led offense given the state of their run defense. They’ve also lost their edge on offense in recent weeks. In other words, the Ravens are catching them at the right time as they plummet from contention. The Falcons will move the ball, but the Ravens will grind them down for a must-have 27-24 victory.

 

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