Week 7: Ravens-Saints, Preview, Matchups, Prediction

Baltimore must contain Drew Brees.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Ravens are the only remaining NFL team that New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has not beaten in his 18-year career.

John Harbaugh wants to keep it that way.

However, he knows his players face a formidable challenge against Brees, who passed Peyton Manning to become the NFL's all-time leader in yards passing Week 5 against the Redskins.

“His vision is unbelievable. His pocket awareness is the best, and he’s very accurate,” Harbaugh said. “So, he can see, he can find the open receiver, and he gets guys in position. They scheme guys open. He knows what he’s looking at pre-snap, and he knows what he’s looking at post-snap.

“So, he’s not going to miss an open guy very often, and he has a great feel for the rush. He’ll take some sacks if he has to, but only if he has to. He throws; he’ll hang in there and make some tight throws when he has pressure all around him. He has the numbers he has for a reason.”

The Ravens enter the game allowing the fewest points per game (12.8) and fewest yards per game (270.8) in the NFL. Baltimore also leads the league in sacks (25) after a compiling a franchise record 11 in a 21-0 win over the Titans in Week 6.

The Ravens have not allowed a second half touchdown over their first six games, the longest streak since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Saints are coming off a bye and had an extra week to prepare for Baltimore’s fearsome defense. New Orleans also averages a league-best 36 points per game.

However, a Ravens wide receiver might have the extra motivation this week.

Willie Snead was hit with a three-game suspension last season in New Orleans for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then suffered a hamstring injury and had just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

During the offseason, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome signed him to a two-year offer sheet that the Saints declined to match.

While Snead said he is not looking for revenge against his former team, he wants to have another big day. He is second on the Ravens with 30 catches for 313 yards with a touchdown.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

SERIES HISTORY

Seventh regular-season meeting. Baltimore leads the all-time series, 5-1. The Ravens have won the last three meetings. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 2-0 against the Saints. These teams last met in 2014, when the Ravens emerged with a 34-27 win at the Superdome on Monday Night Football.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- The Ravens have an opportunity to help their playoff chances with four of their next five games at home.

Baltimore is coming off one of the most dominant performances in franchise history with a 21-0 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Week 6. Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows a successful stretch will go a long way for his team’s postseason hopes.

“Winning a game like that on the road doesn’t mean nearly as much if you can’t follow it up,” Harbaugh said. “You have to back it up with another win, and what you need to do in the NFL is stack wins. You need to find a way to get on a roll, and you do that by getting better every single day, all the things we always talk about, and going out there and playing good, winning football on Sunday. That’s all our focus needs to be, because if we can stack a win on top of that win, then it really starts to mean something.”

Baltimore finished with 11 sacks against the Titans -- one shy of tying the NFL record.

“You just want to play productive defense, and we had the opportunity to do that,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Our offense did a good job of controlling the time of possession, so we pretty much had a fresh defense. It was a team win, offense, defense, and special teams alike. So, it was a good win. It was a good road win, too.”

-- Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had 11 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage over the first six games, tied for Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins for most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I know we lead the league in batted balls,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I think we have 11 now, and that’s something that’s a problem, because those are opportunities. A lot of times, those guys are open, and those are chances to complete passes. That’s something that we’ve been working on the last couple of weeks. We still haven’t it cleaned up the way we want to, and we’re not happy about it. We need to clean that up.”

As a result, quarterbacks coach James Urban implemented a drill to help Flacco overcome the challenge. The veteran quarterback was not overly enthused about the process.

“He’s standing there with a bag in his hand that goes up to 12 feet high, unrealistically high for anybody’s hands,” Flacco said. "I just threw the ball and hit the bag on purpose. It’s just like, 'I get your point. We got it.’”

Harbaugh thinks is more of a technical issue than a physical one for the 6-foot-6 Flacco. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is just 6-feet, has not dealt with the same issue.

“Those guys that are in front of him are pretty tall, too, but Drew Brees, I don’t think, has a batted pass yet this year, to make that contrast,” Harbaugh said. “So it’s probably not as much about that as it is about other issues. It’s always a team effort. Anything like that is always a team effort, and we have to get better at it.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – Number of NFL teams, the Ravens, to boast a Top 5 passing and rushing defense. Baltimore ranks second and third, respectively, in each: passing – 188.0 ypg and rushing – 82.8 ypg. Overall, The Ravens ranks No. 1 in the league, allowing 270.8 yards per game

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: LB Za'Darius Smith. The emerging playmaker is entering the final year of his rookie contract and could be putting himself in position for a big payday. Last week against the Titans, Smith had a team-high five tackles, including three sacks. He is also tied for fifth in the NFL with 5.5 sacks.

GAME PLAN: The Ravens have been able to beat teams with big plays downfield. There is potential to continue that trend against a Saints secondary that is ranked 17th against the pass. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 1,788 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been able to effectively use all of his weapons on offense, most notable Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown, who is the deep threat.

Baltimore enters the game with league’s No. 1 overall defense. The key to this game will be tight coverage in the secondary. The Ravens want Saints quarterback Drew Brees to hold onto the ball and eventually succumb to their constant pressure. Baltimore also leads the league with 26 sacks so the Saints might to want to establish an effective running attack to take some pressure off Brees. New Orleans is ranked 19th, averaging 103.2 yards rushing per game.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Ravens secondary vs. Saints QB Drew Brees.

Brees has some extra motivation because he will be looking for for his 500th career touchdown pass on Sunday. Baltimore is ranked third against the pass and has a deep secondary with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson have also been solid.

LT Ronnie Stanley vs. DE Cameron Jordan. The Saints will try to pressure Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco into making mistakes. Jordan has five of the team’s 12 sacks this year. The onus will be on Stanley to keep Flacco upright. The left tackle will get some help from his tight ends because the Ravens will want to attack the Saints through the air. Flacco has been sacked 11 times over six games.

PREDICTION:

Baltimore holds serve at home and slows New Orleans' high-powered offense.

Final Score:

Ravens 27, Saints 21

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