The Ravens stormed from behind to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a short Week 8, stacking back-to-back wins for the first time all year. The New Orleans Saints shut out the Las Vegas Raiders in their best all-around performance of the season. Which team will hold the advantage when they match up on “Monday Night Football”?
Ravens passing game vs. Saints pass defense
Lamar Jackson is working with a depleted set of targets after No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman aggravated his foot injury in the win over the Buccaneers and opted for season-ending surgery. Jackson’s top target, tight end Mark Andrews (42 catches, 488 yards, five touchdowns), also suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out of that game, but he’s more likely to be ready for the Saints. Wide receiver Devin Duvernay (24 catches on 32 targets, 313 yards, three touchdowns) is Jackson’s best option behind Bateman and Andrews, but Demarcus Robinson also stepped forward against the Buccaneers with six catches on eight targets for 64 yards. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, meanwhile, filled Andrews’ shoes with the best game of his career (six catches on seven targets, 77 yards), making good on the considerable promise he showed in preseason. Jackson made it work against Tampa Bay, avoiding mistakes and completing all eight of his passes in the second half. He ranks fifth in ESPN’s QBR statistic measuring all-around quarterback play. He has also benefited from sturdy pass blocking, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley returning to form after he lost almost two years to an ankle injury.
The Ravens will take on an above-average pass defense that stifled the Raiders’ Derek Carr (15-for-26, 101 yards, interception) in Week 8. The Saints rank 30th in blitz rate and 27th in pressures per drop-back, so they don’t succeed by destroying the pocket. They don’t force many turnovers. Their cornerbacks grade average at best, according to Pro Football Focus. So how are they doing it? Well, they have an elite playmaker in safety Tyrann Mathieu and a terrific all-around linebacker in Demario Davis. They cover tight ends better than any defense in the league, according to Football Outsiders. They excel on third down and in the red zone. Joe Burrow in Week 6 was the only quarterback to go off on them this season.
Saints passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
A week after they beat Tom Brady, the Ravens will encounter another old friend in former AFC North nemesis Andy Dalton, who has played well since stepping in for Jameis Winston in Week 4. Dalton has completed 65.2% of his passes with nine touchdowns against four interceptions. He will be without star wide receiver Michael Thomas (foot) against the Ravens, but he has plenty of other dynamic targets, led by standout rookie Chris Olave (37 catches on 63 targets, 547 yards, two touchdowns) and versatile running back Alvin Kamara (33 catches on 45 targets, 287 yards, two touchdowns). Kamara is of special concern to a Ravens defense that has done better covering wide receivers than it has tackling dangerous runners after short catches. Dalton has taken just four sacks in five starts, in part because he gets rid of the ball quickly and in part because of solid work from tackles Ryan Ramczyk and James Hurst, a former Raven.
The Ravens rank 22nd in blitz rate and 26th in pressures per drop-back, but they’re tied for fifth with 23 sacks, a sign that their pass rushers are finishing plays when chances arise. Outside linebacker Justin Houston produced four sacks over the last two games despite playing limited snaps as he recovered from a groin injury. Justin Madubuike, Calais Campbell and Broderick Washington have produced interior pressure, while linebacker Patrick Queen, tied for second on the team with 3 1/2 sacks, is a danger every time he blitzes. Trade addition Roquan Smith could also be a selective menace as a pass rusher, and the Ravens will benefit from the return of outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, who’s as effective in coverage as he is chasing the quarterback. Their greatest vulnerability is lack of depth at cornerback, where neither Damarion “Pepe” Williams nor Brandon Stephens has established himself as a consistent complement to starters Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey.
Ravens running game vs. Saints run defense
The Ravens destroyed the Buccaneers on the ground with 204 rushing yards in the second half alone. They hope Gus Edwards (hamstring) will be available against the Saints, because his power has given them a new dimension, especially in clutch, short-yardage situations. Justice Hill and Kenyan Drake were efficient against Tampa Bay, combining for 90 yards on 11 carries. They took advantage of a more mobile offensive line, led by center Tyler Linderbaum and tackles Stanley and Morgan Moses, to stretch the field horizontally. Jackson remains the weapon no defense can account for, leading the team with 553 rushing yards on 7.4 yards per carry. The Ravens average a league-best 5.7 yards per carry overall.
The Saints aren’t as good against the run as against the pass, but they did hold the Raiders and Josh Jacobs to 38 rushing yards. They have not played as well against teams with running threats at quarterback, including the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. The Saints do not have a dominant interior playmaker, but Davis, their every-down linebacker, is excellent, and their edge defenders have played well against the run.
Saints running game vs. Ravens run defense
The Saints aren’t as dangerous as the Ravens on the ground, but they average 5 yards per carry, seventh best in the league. Kamara (413 yards) is their most prolific runner. Sort-of-quarterback Taysom Hill (8.6 yards per carry, five touchdowns) is their most dangerous weapon, because defenses never know where he’s going to line up. Sometimes, he’s a tight end. Sometimes, he’s a running back. Sometimes, he takes snaps as a wildcat quarterback. Always, Hill’s combination of power and speed presents problems, and the Saints will test the edges of the Baltimore defense.
The Ravens have shored up their run defense in recent weeks and hope the addition of Smith, who led the league in tackles for the Chicago Bears, will round out the picture. Queen is having his best season, but Smith is a more consistent playmaker in the middle. Though we might not see his full impact until after the Ravens’ Week 10 bye, he could be useful against Hill. On the interior, the Ravens expect to have Campbell back after he missed the Buccaneers game with an illness.
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Ravens special teams vs. Saints special teams
The Ravens continue to lap the field in special teams DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Justin Tucker had a 61-yard field goal attempt blocked against the Buccaneers; otherwise, he’s made 16 of 17 attempts, including five from beyond 50 yards. Punter Jordan Stout played his best game as a pro. Duvernay is the league’s best returner, averaging 15.1 yards on punts and 31.9 yards on kickoffs. Kicker Wil Lutz, a former Raven, has struggled for the Saints, making just 12 of 17 field goal attempts, with four of his misses coming inside 50 yards. New Orleans has not excelled in any aspect of special teams, ranking 30th in DVOA.
Ravens intangibles vs. Saints intangibles
The Ravens emerged from their comeback win over the Buccaneers with an earned sense of optimism and added to it with their trade for Smith, one of the best players on the market. With every other team in the AFC North at .500 or below, they know this is their time to build an advantage. They had an extra three days to prepare for the Saints, which cannot hurt.
New Orleans started a disappointing 2-5 under coach Dennis Allen, who went 8-28 during his previous head coaching stint with the Raiders. But they put themselves right back in the NFC South mix with their shutout of the Raiders, and their offense has started to click with Dalton in place of Winston.
With a solid defense, an unorthodox running game and several big-play threats, the Saints aren’t your run-of-the-mill 3-5 opponent. But the Ravens will move the ball on the ground, and their massive advantage on special teams could come into play. They will batter their way to another victory in their midseason tour of the mediocre NFC South. Ravens 27, Saints 20