SCOUTING REPORT: Game 14 vs. NEW ORLEANS
Ravens run offense vs. Saints run defense: This is a critical area of the game for the Ravens, who have to figure out a way to re-establish a once-powerful ground attack. The Ravens need to control the clock and keep their tiring defense off the field. The Saints are susceptible in this area, giving up 85-plus yards to five running backs this season. The Ravens are averaging a meager 3.6 yards per carry, but they're 4-1 when they run the ball more than 30 times in a game this season. Running back Ray Rice has been held to 65 or fewer yards in four of his past five games. Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is the leading tackler for the Saints, who rank 16th against the run. Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain and running back Willis McGahee are both questionable with illness.
Ravens pass offense vs. Saints pass defense: Joe Flacco has excelled at home, averaging 254.8 yards passing per game. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and one interception at M&T Bank Stadium this season for a 107.1 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Derrick Mason has caught five touchdowns in six games, but he's dealing with an ankle injury. Tight end Todd Heap is sidelined for a second straight game with a hamstring injury. New Orleans, which has the No. 5 pass defense in the NFL, has given up the fewest passing touchdowns this season (eight). The Saints have the most interceptions returned for touchdowns (seven) over the past two seasons, which includes a 96-yarder last Sunday by safety Malcolm Jenkins. Pass protection has been a problem for the Ravens, who have given up 13 sacks in three games. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis tops the Saints with five sacks, and right end Alex Brown has a team-high 10 quarterback hits.
Saints run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Ravens have been strong against the run at home, allowing an average of 95.3 yards on the ground. After Cleveland's Peyton Hillis gained 144 yards, no other running back has surpassed 73 yards rushing against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. The Saints went over the 100-yard mark for the fourth time in five games when they gained 132 yards last Sunday against St. Louis. Chris Ivory, New Orleans' leading rusher, is questionable with a hamstring injury. Pierre Thomas had 39 yards on 12 carries in his first game since Sept. 26. Ray Lewis is fifth in the NFL with 117 tackles.
Saints pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: The Ravens have to quickly rebound after giving up 393 yards passing and three touchdowns just six days ago at Houston. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown for over 300 yards in five of his past seven games. He has completed the ninth-most passes over 20 yards (40). The Ravens gave up six passes over 20 yards Monday night at Houston. Wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore have combined for 130 catches and 14 touchdowns. The key to beating the Saints is picking off Brees, who has thrown half of his 18 interceptions this season in three losses. Three of them have been returned for touchdowns. The Ravens have 10 interceptions in seven games since safety Ed Reed returned. Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, the former Towson University standout, will line up against Terrell Suggs, who has 6 ½ sacks in his past six games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens' return game could be turning the corner. Rookie David Reed ran back a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown Monday night, and Lardarius Webb has had punt returns of 35 and 22 yards the past two games. The Saints have had lapses on punt coverage (28th in the NFL) and kickoff coverage (19th). New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley has gotten back on track after a rocky start, hitting his last six field-goal attempts. The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has converted on 16 of his past 17 tries. Saints kickoff returner Courtney Roby is out with a head injury.
INTANGIBLES: The Saints are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, winning six consecutive games and scoring at least 30 points in five straight. Dome teams usually have trouble going on the road late in the season, but New Orleans is 3-3 under coach Sean Payton when playing in cold-weather cities late in December, including a 34-30 win at the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month. New Orleans has jumped out on teams, outscoring them 95-32 in the first quarter. The Ravens have won eight straight home games against the NFC. But the schedule presents a challenge for the Ravens, who are coming off a Monday night road game. This game has playoff ramifications for both teams. The Ravens and New Orleans are both one game behind their division leaders.
PREDICTION: The Ravens have struggled to beat elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Suggs says Brees is better than them. That's bad news for a reeling Ravens secondary.