Scouting report for Sunday's Ravens-Saints game

RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Joe Flacco saved his best work for third down in the Ravens’ Week 6 victory at Tennessee, leading the offense to 12 of 17 conversions. He’s cooled slightly overall, but his QBR of 60.5 would still be the third best of his career, behind 2014 and 2011. Michael Crabtree had his best game as a Raven against the Titans, and Willie Snead IV made several crucial catches on third down, continuing his rebound from a lost 2017 season in New Orleans. The Ravens have yet to establish first-round pick Hayden Hurst as a receiving threat. He has one catch in two games.

SAINTS PASSING GAME: At age 39, Drew Brees is still one of the most productive passers in the league and one of the highest rated when facing pressure. Multiple Ravens praised his quick release and keen awareness of every player on the field. Brees has completed almost 80 percent of his passes and thrown no interceptions through five games. He throws to a deep group of receivers and running backs, led by Michael Thomas (46 catches on 49 targets for 519 yards and three touchdowns) and Alvin Kamara (38 catches for 351 yards out of the backfield). Brees is protected by two excellent pass blockers in tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk.

EDGE: Saints

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RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens ran often against the Titans but continued to struggle with efficiency, averaging just 3.5 yards on 35 carries. They’ve averaged 3.4 yards per attempt on the season, second-worst in the league. Undrafted rookie Gus Edwards delivered a promising debut in Tennessee, with 42 yards on 10 carries operating primarily as a power runner. Quarterback Lamar Jackson broke a season-long 22-yard gain against the Titans.

SAINTS RUNNING GAME: With Mark Ingram back from suspension, the Saints have returned to the two-headed attack that worked so well for them in 2017. Kamara has averaged 4.8 yards a carry and scored five touchdowns in his follow-up to an Offensive Rookie of the Year season. Ingram scored two touchdowns in his first game back. The Saints’ excellent tackles grade nearly as well at run blocking as pass blocking, according to Pro Football Focus.

EDGE: Saints

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RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Titans hardly tried to run against the stout middle of the Ravens’ defense, with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combining for 30 yards on 12 carries. That continued a trend as the Ravens have run the ball 47 more times than their opponents over six games. Linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Brent Urban continue to grade as excellent run defenders, according to Pro Football Focus.

SAINTS RUSH DEFENSE: The Saints have held opposing runners to 3.1 yards per carry, best in the NFL. That’s bad news for a Baltimore ground attack still trying to get untracked. The Saints have numerous effective run defenders, from safety Vonn Bell to linebacker Demario Davis to defensive end Cameron Jordan.

EDGE: Even

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RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens set a franchise record with 11 sacks against the Titans. They’ve held opposing quarterbacks to 4.7 yards per attempt, best in the league, and limited opponents to 22 conversions on 83 third-down attempts, the second-best percentage in the league. Linebacker Za’Darius Smith was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after he produced three sacks in just 22 snaps against the Titans. He’s tied for fifth in the league with 5 ½ sacks, and teammate Terrell Suggs is tied for 15th with 4 ½. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr have continued to grade well in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

SAINTS PASS DEFENSE: This is the Saints’ greatest weakness. As incredible as Brees has been, with a 122.3 passer rating, opposing quarterbacks have nearly matched him with a 115.5 rating and 11 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore has taken a step back from his outstanding rookie season, and the Saints’ other corners have been downright poor in coverage. Jordan has lived up to his high standard as a pass rusher, and first-round pick Marcus Davenport has complemented him well.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Tucker didn’t attempt a field goal against the Titans, but his only two misses this season have come on blocks. Sam Koch is tied for third in the league with 15 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Cyrus Jones brought stability to the return game in Tennessee, handling the ball cleanly and averaging 12.5 yards on four punt returns. The Ravens went back to Chris Moore as a kick returner, a role in which he excelled last season.

SAINTS SPECIAL TEAMS: Former Ravens camp invitee Wil Lutz has made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts. Thomas Morstead has punted just 13 times but ranks second in the NFL with a 44.7-yard net average. The Saints have been outgained by opponents in the return game. Kamara has averaged four yards on four punt returns, and quarterback Taysom Hill has averaged 24.3 yards on seven kickoff returns.

EDGE: Ravens

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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens will return home for the first time in almost a month, coming off an overpowering victory in Tennessee. Their defense is riding as high as it has in recent memory. And they’ve beaten Brees four times, albeit in a limited sample size. They’ve won their two games at M&T Bank Stadium by a combined score of 74-17.

SAINTS INTANGIBLES: The Saints had extra time to prepare for the Ravens with their bye falling in Week 6. They won four games in a row heading into the off week, averaging almost 40 points over the last three of those. Coach Sean Payton is widely regarded as one of the sharpest play callers in the sport.

EDGE: Even

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PREDICTION: The Saints are remarkably efficient on offense and have already scored 40 or more points three times in five games. With an excellent run defense to boot, they’re one of the toughest tests on the Ravens’ schedule. In a heavyweight showdown between one of the best offenses in the league and one of the best defenses, expect the Saints and Brees to outscore the Ravens in an exciting game, 31-27.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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