Baltimore Beatdown traded five questons with SB Nation's New Orleans Saints blog, Canal Street Chronicles about this week's key match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and the Saints. Below is the beginning of their answers to my questions. They continue after the 'Jump' as well as his five questions that I answered.
1. What is the current status of the Saints starting running backs and can we expect a full dose of Reggie Bush Sunday? The bad news for Ravens fans is that the Saints running backs have just recently gotten healthy again and should be back at full strength on Sunday. Reggie Bush returned from his broken leg two weeks ago and last week saw the return of Pierre Thomas from a mysterious high ankle injury. Reggie can certainly be explosive and dangerous on any given day but he's not the one I would be worried about. Undrafted free agent rookie Chris Ivory has the hot hand right now. He's also the powerful, straight-ahead style runner that might be better suited for a cold weather game.
2. Compare the Saints' defense of 2010 to the 2009 version that thrived on take-a-ways. This year's defense definitely hasn't been the turnover and scoring machine they were much of 2010. But they've still been solid and kept the Saints in quite a few games there in the middle of the season. Even better news for Saints fans is that recently it seems they've gotten a little of that 2009 turnover mojo back. The Saints got a key strip to beat Dallas on Thanksgiving and last week the defense had two interceptions, including a game-changing pick six, and a forced fumble.
3. What is the best way to score against the New Orleans defense for the Ravens? Probably by rushing the ball. The Saints are ranked 5th in the league in pass yards per game while they're run defense is ranked a middle-of-the-road 16th. A consistent run game and good blocking up front should find success, could lead to a big play or two and also soften up the defense when it's time to go deep.
4. Who is one player on both sides of the ball that the Ravens need to be very concerned about? On offense I will assume you mean a player other than Drew Brees. Because he's the heart and soul of the team. In that case, I would have to go with tight end Jimmy Graham simply for the surprise factor. A third round draft pick and former basketball player, Graham may have been the steal of this years draft. He has shown a lot of promise and could very well be the team's tight end for the future. Since he's probably not on most people's radar and you mentioned that the Ravens have had a tough time covering TE's, Graham could surprise. On defense that's got to be none other than 2009 first round draft pick S/CB Malcolm Jenkins. He had two interceptions last week and seems to get better and better with every game. He's now been voted NFC Defensive Player of the Week twice this season.
5. How have the Saints performed outside in colder weather venues? It doesn't feel like they've done well. My mind always turns back to the Saints loss to the Bears in Chicago during the 2006 NFC Championship Game when it snowed. They're certainly not as good as the Patriots in the snow, that's for sure. I don't know if it's possible to find that stat but I'd bet good money the Saints have lost more than they've won in cold weather. The weather this Sunday, particularly the possibility of snow, is a definite concern of mine and could be a key factor.
Bonus: Prediction? The offense has been rolling, scoring over 30 points the last five games. I think they'll keep it up. I will say Saints, 35 - 24.
Here are his questions for me and my responses:
Where do the Ravens stand on the health front? What are the key injuries? TE Todd Heap's status is still uncertain and his absence left a huge void in the Ravens gameplan against the Houston Texans last week as the rookie TE only caught one ball in that game. Otherwise, the team came out of the game relatively sound and have remained so most of the season.
Any concern that the Ravens will be worn down this weekend because of the OT game against the Texans this past Monday, in particular the defense? Is there enough gas in the tank? The Ravens certainly were exhausted in the Texans game and a short week is partially negated by this being a home game. If the Ravens can keep their offense on the field, then the defense should be well rested. If not, the same thing could have with disastrous results.
The Ravens running game seems to be under-performing these past few weeks. What, if anything, is behind that? The poor performance of the offensive line has hurt both the run game and the pass protection. Once a strength of Ravens team's past, it is a real concern and has the team hesitant to try to force the ball down opponent's throats as they have built their reputation on that type of smash-mouth football.
Which part of the Ravens defense should the Saints attempt to exploit? The short, slants and quick hits, plus WR screens, have all given the Ravens defense fits. Poor tackling by the cornerbacks combined with the linebackers inability to cover the TE's and running backs have given opponents chances to drive down the field, tiring out the Ravens defense as previously discussed.
The Ravens have been outscored 74-105 in the 4th quarter this season and have been involved in three overtime games. Do they have a problem closing out games? Obviously, this is an issue, with all four of the Ravens losses coming after they surrendered fourth quarter leads. Interestingly, they are among the league leaders in defense in the third quarter. There has been questionable play-calling in critical moments that has turned the tide the past two games and if that doesn't change, it will be the downfall of the team's season at some point.
Bonus: Care to make a prediction? If the Ravens allow the Saints to come back like they did the Texans, we will be blown away and lose. However, the season has been head-shaking from week to week and with the home field advantage and cold weather, I like the Ravens chances, but the thought of a close game will have fans on both teams on the edge of their seats for at least 60 minutes, if not more. I'll be the homer and say Ravens 27-24.