The Ravens have faced two of the NFL’s top 10 passing offenses already in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 2 unit and the New Orleans Saints’ No. 6 group. Sunday’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, boasts the No. 4 aerial attack, which will offer another test for the Ravens’ No. 2 pass defense.
“Obviously, it’s a great challenge for us,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Thursday. “I think it’s our strength against their strength, and we’ll just see where it ends up. But we’re real excited about the challenge.”
The respect is mutual.
“I think these are, talking about their defense and our offense, two good units in that way, and specifically in the passing game, what I’m referring to,” said Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, a Salisbury University graduate. “They have multiple guys — they can play nickel, they can play dime — to go down and match up with different guys. I think it’s a hell of a matchup between two really good units, our receiving corps, their DBs. … We sometimes talk about the game within the game. This is one of those matchups this week that I think deserves that kind of attention.”
On a simpler level, the Ravens will be tasked with trying to contain a Falcons wide receiver corps that includes Julio Jones (first in the NFL with 1,305 yards and tied for third with 84 receptions), rookie Calvin Ridley (47 catches for 625 yards and eight touchdowns) and Mohamed Sanu (42 receptions for 546 yards and three scores).
Martindale said Atlanta has “three legitimate Pro Bowl receivers,” and that doesn’t include tight end Austin Hooper (55 catches for 476 yards and three touchdowns). But all eyes will be on Jones, whom cornerback Jimmy Smith joked was “created … in a lab.”
“You get a guy that’s 6-3, runs a 4.3, weighs 220, and can stop on a dime like that, he’s a freak of nature athletically,” Smith said. “That’s pretty much it. He’s a physically imposing receiver.”
Fellow cornerback Brandon Carr said the defensive backs might be able to disrupt Jones’ chemistry with quarterback Matt Ryan by pressing him at the line of scrimmage.
“You have to always account for where he is at all times,” Carr said. “Communication — whether it’s zone or whether it’s man — you’ve got to get your eyes on this guy. They’re going to make plays, and we’re going to have to make our plays as well. The biggest thing this week is to be physical and to tackle.”
Martindale echoed Carr’s sentiment that both sides will win their fair share of battles Sunday.
“Just like I told our DBs, there’s going to be some plays made,” he said. “It’s just, how are we going to handle the series of events? I know right now what our mindset is.”