Tonight’s Monday Night Football contest between the Baltimore Ravens and the New Orleans Saints has the look, smell and feel of a “Trap” game. Despite the disparity in the teams’ win-loss record (New Orleans at 4-6 and the Ravens at 6-4), these teams are more evenly matched than they seem to be.
Among the many anomalies that surround tonight’s game is the relative sizes of the starting Quarterbacks. Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, who is a smidgen under 6 feet, is one of the shortest signal callers in the NFL while Joe Flacco at 6’6” is among the tallest. However, size is not generally a predictor of performance.
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Drew Brees, of course, will look to probe, prod, punch and pillage Baltimore’s patchwork secondary. He will attempt to manipulate the young Safeties with his eyes, freeze Raven’s Linebackers with his play action, pump fakes and pocket movement and he will be successful if the Raven’s young defenders aren’t disciplined.
Dan Pees and the Ravens Defense cannot allow Brees to have his way. They must play “like lions”, make smart decisions and “finish” every play. The tackling must be solid and crisp. They must be aggressive but patient; and they must eliminate the mental errors.
The New Orleans Saints sit atop the NFC South Division, a division in which no team has an even or winning record. The Ravens, sit in “the basement” of the AFC North, a division in which no team has a tied or losing record. The 6-4 Ravens are chasing the rest of the AFC North and a loss tonight would severely cripple their playoff hopes. The pressure is on the Ravens and they cannot afford to be “trapped” at the Superdome.
“The New Orleans Saints sit atop the NFC South Division, a division in which no team has an even or winning record. The Ravens, sit in “the basement” of the AFC North, a division in which no team has a tied or losing record.”
So, what must the Ravens to win this game?
First, they must sustain drives. In order to do so, Joe Flacco and the Offense must consistently “move the ball down field”. They must consistently “move the chains”, especially on third down. Flacco must be more accurate, receivers must catch the ball and blockers must block.
This season, the Ravens converted 40 percent of its third down opportunities but they will have to do better tonight. It won’t be easy because the Saints’ are masters at engineering long drives; keeping the ball away from their opponents. The Ravens’ will have to do something to force the Saints into more “3 and outs” and their Special Teams will have to give Flacco “short fields” with which to work.
The Ravens must remember that they cannot score without the ball. Dan Pees’ Defense must take more “calculated” risks in effort to create more turnovers. Turnovers will probably determine the winner of this game and the Ravens have not exactly been masters at picking the ball off.
The Saints’ rushing attack is similar to the Ravens’. Saints’ rushers have amassed 1,247 yards while the Ravens have 1,241 yards; however, Drew Brees has a distinct advantage over Flacco, throwing for almost 3,100 yards while Joe Flacco has garnered just over 2,500 yards.
Tonight’s game is winnable for the Ravens if they stay focused and play a “complete” game. The Ravens need to increase their offensive tempo and they need to raise their third down conversion rate. They need to continue to be stout in their run defense, especially in the “Red Zone” because the Saints like to run the ball when they get close to the goal line. They need to limit Brees’ movement in the pocket, especially his sliding to his left to create throwing lanes, and they need to get pressure, forcing him to his right.
“Hopefully the Ravens will not be lulled into complacency by the gentle wisp of bayou breezes and the sweet smell of Gumbo and Blackened Catfish.”
Joe Flacco needs to get the ball out of his hands faster and Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to help him by calling plays that help Flacco get through his progressions faster. The Saints have almost as many quarterback sacks as the Ravens and more interceptions, so late balls will almost certainly be picked off.
Both the Ravens and the Saints have lost key players in their defensive backfields and others have been asked to “step up.” Because Flacco has the “bigger” arm, the Ravens will be tempted to challenge the deep secondary (i.e., the Safeties) which might not be the best idea since half of their interceptions were hauled in by their Safeties.
The Ravens’ best bet at the Superdome tonight will be to run the ball and stay committed to the run, use quick passes and spread the ball around. The Ravens should keep the Saints’ Linebackers running from sideline to sideline with outside stretch runs, screens and pitch plays.
The Ravens know that the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have all won this week. They also know that a loss in New Orleans will greatly diminish their playoff hopes. And, no doubt, they know that four of the Saints six losses were by a margin of three points or less.
Hopefully the Ravens will not be lulled into complacency by the gentle wisp of bayou breezes and the sweet smell of Gumbo and Blackened Catfish. Although this is, by any definition, a “Trap” game, the Charm City Black Birds can win. Tonight, every player on the team will have to “play like a Raven,” anything less is “unacceptable.