Gridiron Goose's Ravens-Saints Pre-Game Report

Unless Billick and Cavanaugh can put together an effect gameplan to take advantage of New Orleans' (9th worst) pass defense, all will be for naught. With Redman listed as questionable for Sunday's matchup against the playoff-bound Saints, that very strategy will once again include 11-year veteran Jeff Blake.

Blake has taken most of the heat for their sputtering passing game, but much of that is unwarranted. There's plenty of blame to go around, everything from pass protection to injuries, to poor execution, to poor play selection. With Stokley returning to the lineup, Blake and/or Redman will have an additional target on the outside playing opposite of Taylor. With Ron Johnson in the slot and Heap underneath, the Ravens should be able to put together some decent numbers- including points. If the Ravens pass the ball on first-down around 60% of the time, a third of those going deep (+25 yards), that in itself should be enough to spread the field.
 
If Blake starts, my prescription calls for play-action and rollouts. Blake does have the stronger arm, so working the outsides is more practical. If Redman gets the nod, look for the majority of passes going between the hash marks, and mostly to Heap. Redman may not have a gun for an arm, but makes up for it with accuracy and smarts. 
 
If the Ravens can get their passing game going early that would tenderize things enough for running game. The Saints rush defense looks pretty on paper, but that's mostly because other teams have had so much success passing on them. The fact is, they are very susceptible to giving up big plays when you run on them (12 plays +20 yards, T3rd most).  In fact 3 out of their 4 leading tacklers are defensive backs, meaning there ain't a whole lot of support coming from their front seven.
 
It is paramount that there is an even mixture of run versus pass plays. Haslett's defense can be abused and mixing things up will do just that: running off-tackle to the left, running sweeps to the right (behind blocking FB), short crossing routes, and deep posts. 

Of course none of this will work unless the guys up front take command of the trenches. Assuming they don't, it may fare Blake and/or Redman well to take Lewis out and replace him with FBs Gash and Ricard to protect their respective rear-ends. Protecting the ball is not an option. As soft as New Orleans' defense has been at times, they do one thing well- forcing and recovering fumbles (tied 3rd most NFL).
 
New Orleans is arguably the most well balanced offense that Baltimore's defense has had to face. Everything about them is for real. From their enormous offensive line, to Aaron Brooks, Joe Horn, and Deuce McAllister, the Saints have about as close to the complete offensive package as you can get.
 
Notwithstanding, the Ravens, as young as they are, are very a opportunistic defense, attacking from every conceivable direction. They're tied 2nd for most interceptions and tied 2nd for average yards allowed on runs (3.7 ave.). Sure, their pass coverage is 10th worst in the league, which will no doubt be Haslett's main point to attack. Nevertheless, if the Ravens can develop some sort of pass rush to disrupt Brooks' timing, they might be able to force a turnover, or two.
 
To do so, Mike Nolan will have to stunt and twist his linemen in order to open up lanes for his linebackers and safeties to tear through. There's not much chance of them winning the battle up front against New Orleans' offensive linemen, so the only other option is to try and force them out of their initial blocking assignments. 
 
Both teams have above average special teams. In this game, it is much more important for Baltimore's kickoff and punt return teams to give their offense decent field position. The Saints can put together long time-consuming drives without much threat of turning the ball over. The same can't be said about the Ravens.
 
Thanks to Brian Slack, better known as Gridiron Goose for contributing this article. We hope to see much more of his stuff here at Ravens Insider in the near future. Brian has an informative weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to by dropping him a line at gridirongoose 'at' msn.com (spam proof address). 

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