One must-watch position battle in Ravens vs. Saints in Week 9
The Baltimore Ravens enter Week 9’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints as the much more injured team, yet they could come away with a win if their defense stands strong.
The Ravens’ secondary, which received plentiful criticism early in the season following a few fourth-quarter collapses, has since improved leaps and bounds and now appears to be at full strength.
The pass-rushing corps, too, has gelled through eight weeks of the season and has recorded a 10.9 percent sack rate in Weeks 6-8, good for second in the league.
But an arguably overlooked unit could also get its chance to shine in the spotlight on Monday: the inside linebackers.
Baltimore didn’t get Lamar Jackson much help before the trade deadline, and the 2019 MVP will have to put together a magisterial performance without some of his most dangerous weapons in Week 9.
On the defensive side of the ball, though, the team received a huge boost in the linebacker department with the blockbuster acquisition of Roquan Smith.
The former Bears player recorded 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three passes defended in eight games for Chicago prior to the trade, and he should make an immediate impact in his Ravens debut.
Ravens vs. Saints Week 9 showdown will feature a fiery battle of the league’s best linebackers
Smith joins Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, and Josh Bynes in a loaded linebacker unit, but New Orleans have a few elite interior defensive options of their own.
Veteran Demario Davis, currently ranked as the league’s No. 1 off-ball linebacker, embodies an all-around complete defender given his ability to both generate pressures and stay stout in pass and man coverage.
Here’s what the Next Gen Stats analytics team recently wrote about Davis:
"He has allowed just 5.4 yards per target in coverage since joining the Saints in 2018, trailing only Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean in that figure (min. 200 targets). And he is tied with Roquan Smith for the second-most hustle stops (70) over that time frame (a hustle stop is a defensive stop where the player covers 20-plus yards of in-play distance from snap to tackle)."
Davis is aided by second-year breakout stud Pete Werner, who has rightfully earned himself MVP even in a stacked Saints’ defense so far this year.
Whereas Smith may need some time to adjust to Baltimore’s defensive scheme, Davis and Werner have formed quite the explosive duo since Week 1, combining for 114 tackles, five sacks, and five passes defended.
Ravens’ Isaiah Likely will likely run into some trouble when facing either linebacker while Saints’ Taysom Hill and the run game may not find much success against Smith and Queen.
Davis may be ranked No. 1, but Smith and Queen are ranked sixth and tenth on the same list with Smith leading all off-ball linebackers in defensive stops and run stuffs since he was drafted in 2018. Queen projects to be the more inconsistent performer of the two, yet he has nonetheless led the Ravens in tackles in every season since 2020.
All in all, this tantalizing matchup between the Ravens and Saints should showcase a handful of the NFL’s most prolific linebackers blanketing offenses and making game-changing plays in clutch situations.
Smith and Queen. Davis and Werner. Week 9’s battle of the linebackers just might be the most entertaining matchup of the Ravens’ 2022 season.