The Ravens packed a lot of news into their longest layoff of the season.
They earned a star inside linebacker in Roquan Smith on Monday, then confirmed they had lost a potential star receiver in Rashod Bateman three days later. They activated outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo on Tuesday but practiced without tight end Mark Andrews and running back Gus Edwards on Thursday, a week after the two earned impressive wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers .
With a third straight win Monday night over the New Orleans Saints (3-5), the Ravens (5-3) could enter their bye week feeling good about their playoff chances. With a loss inside the Caesars Superdome, they should be brooding over their season’s woes and missed opportunities for longer than they’d like. Here’s what to watch in the teams Week 7 game.
1. In their 24-0 win over the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday, the Saints fired starting quarterback Derek Carr three times and backup Jarrett Stidham once. Of the four sacks, New Orleans only needed four passers to go home.
It was a fairly typical game plan for the Saints’ defense, one of the least aggressive units in the NFL. According to Pro Football Reference, New Orleans ranks 29th in the NFL in blitz rate, sending five or more passers on just 15.2 percent of opponents’ setbacks. The Saints also have one of the lowest pressure ratings in the NFL (17.2%, 26th overall).
They might not turn things around against Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Against four or fewer pass runners this season, he completes 64.4% of his passes but averages just 6.4 yards per attempt and takes a sack on 8% of his throwbacks, according to Sports Info Solutions. He also threw six touchdowns and four interceptions on 146 attempts.
2. After the best game of his rookie season, tight end Isaiah Likely may have the toughest test of his rookie season.
With All-Pro Andrews sidelined in practice this week, the fourth-round pick is in line to make his first career start on Monday. He likely won a game ball after catching six of seven targets for 77 yards and his first career touchdown in the Ravens’ win over Tampa Bay. Awaiting him in New Orleans is a Saints defense, led down the middle by All-Pro inside linebacker Demario Davis, who leads the NFL in pass defense effectiveness against tight ends, according to Football Outsiders.
“There are a lot of things in this NFL game that rookies need to learn on the job,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Friday. “As a tight end in this offense you have to learn a lot. He’s doing a good job with it, but someone’s going down, someone’s got to intervene. It’s the name of this game, so he did a great job with it, and we look forward to working with him and developing it in the future.
3. Since Week 3, the Ravens have averaged 6 yards per carry on third and fourth downs and have converted those carries to first downs 64.5% of the time, according to TruMedia.
The Saints, meanwhile, have allowed just 3.2 yards per carry on third and fourth runs this season, fourth-best in the NFL. Only 30.8% of those attempts were converted into first downs, by far the best rate in the league. In their loss to New Orleans last Sunday, the Raiders attempted just one run on third and fourth downs — a third and final against wide receiver Davante Adams who lost a yard.
4. In his nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and one-year cameos with the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, quarterback Andy Dalton is a respectable 8-10 against the Ravens despite poor play. His passer rating (78.3), completion percentage (.568), yards per attempt (6.8) and touchdown to interception ratio (1.3) in those 18 games are all below his career averages.
In his first season with New Orleans, where he replaced Jameis Winston, the 35-year-old Dalton is now enjoying a late-career resurgence. His QBR (55.0) would be his highest single-season since 2018, and he’s finished with a better completion percentage than his current rating (.652) only once in his career.
“He’s capable in a lot of ways,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Thursday, who will face Dalton for the fourth time in as many years on Monday. “We’ve played it so many times; we’ve seen it on tape so much. We understand his game and we understand how he can win for an offense. So our job is going to be to do whatever we can to remove these things from their offense. It’s a challenge because they have a lot of good players around him, but we have all the respect in the world for Andy Dalton. He made a big difference in their offense; they play a good attack and he did a good job.
5. If facing Lamar Jackson every day in practice has prepared the Ravens defense for anything, it’s a running threat like Taysom Hill.
The Saints gimmick, technically a tight end, has 39 carries for 337 yards (8.6 per attempt) and five touchdowns this season. Designed quarterback runs make up most of his output: According to SIS, he has 18 such runs for 210 yards and three scores this season, with 145 yards after contact.
Hill was particularly dangerous on third down, with five quarterback carries designed for 124 yards and a touchdown. He had a rush for 60 yards in third-and-1 against the Seattle Seahawks and a rush for 57 yards in third-and-1 against the Atlanta Falcons. Both came on “QB power” plays, in which Hill takes a shotgun blast into a heavy formation and follows a lineman firing to the second tier.
“The key to stopping them is you have to play really solid defense, and everybody has to do their job in a very physical way,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “It’s the same thing you’re talking about with our attack; this adds an extra blocker to the equation, and he can throw. So we have to do a great job against this offense. We also manage many of these games. So we train hard against that. It’s not just that; he is a very good runner, he is very physical, he is a very intelligent player, a very tough player. All of these things come into play.
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6. Saints running back Alvin Kamara specializes in out-of-area running concepts, in which offensive linemen move in unison to one side of the field, responsible for blocking areas on the field, rather than defenders specific. From there, it’s up to the running backs. As they read the defence, looking for a crease, they can either “fall back” to the weak side of play, “hit” into an open lane, or “bounce” the run off the tackle.
According to SIS, Kamara has more out-of-bounds runs (29) than any other type of run this season, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt and scoring three touchdowns. Against the Raiders, he had seven such carries for 31 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
The Ravens should be well prepared. Their defense has allowed just 2.8 yards per carry on 18 outfield carries this season, bolstered by solid production at all three levels, from defensive lineman Justin Madubuike to inside linebacker Patrick Queen to safety Chuck Clark.
Smith, acquired on Monday, is also expected to play. “We’ll see how much,” defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said Friday, praising the All-Pro’s mastery of defense, “but he’ll be there.”
seven. The Ravens are tied for second in the NFL in turnover differential (plus-six) and have forced a turnover in 10 consecutive games, a streak that dates back to the end of last season. The Saints are last in turnover differential this season (minus nine); they forced just seven turnovers (two interceptions, five fumbles) and committed 16 themselves (nine interceptions, seven fumbles).
8. Jackson needs 14 rushing yards to pass Steve Young for fifth in career rushing yards by a quarterback. Young finished his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with 4,239 yards in 169 games. Jackson has 4,226 yards in 66 games.
With a punt return touchdown, Devin Duvernay would become the first player in modern NFL history to record a touchdown on a fumble recovery, kickoff return, punt return, catch-up and transport. The Saints have one of the worst special teams in the NFL and rank 28th in punt efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.