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Saints @ Ravens: 3 Key Matchups

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Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

An intriguing cross-conference matchup awaits in Week 7. A pair of contenders will vie for their fifth win of the season when the Saints league best scoring offense squares off against the Ravens top scoring defense. Baltimore is listed as 2.5 point home favorites with a robust 49.5 point total.

New Orleans will be well rested following their bye week. Sean Payton’s team is 7-2 post-bye since 2009 and 8-1 in October since 2016, but have lost four of their last six games on the road. The Ravens have won five of their last six as a small home favorite and sport an admirable 5-1 all-time record versus the Saints.

This contest will feature a pair of former Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks and championship winning head coaches. New Orleans has plenty of star power on offense and an underrated defensive line. To secure victory, Baltimore’s offense must execute in the red zone and on third downs to dictate game script.

Three key matchups:

DT Willie Henry vs C Max Unger

Due to his extraordinary ability to read defenses pre-snap and deliver accurate passes with a lightening quick release, future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is a difficult player to sack. He will also have a pair of top notch bookend tackles, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, protecting the edges. In fact, Brees has been sacked on less than 5-percent of his drop backs this season.

Fortunately, the Ravens have a few defenders who can provide pressure up the middle. While hybrid pass rusher Za’Darius Smith has rightfully been spotlighted for his impressive sack numbers, defensive tackle Willie Henry does much of the dirty work inside. It is not a coincidence that the Ravens have recorded 16 sacks, more than 60-percent of their season total, since Henry returned to the rotation in Week 5.

Winning the battle on the interior is the key to disrupting the rhythm of the Saints third ranked passing offense.

WR John Brown vs CB Ken Crawley

Despite his small stature, ‘Smokey’ Brown leads the Ravens in yards and touchdowns through six games. He had his least productive game of the season, with just two receptions for 28 yards, in last week’s blowout win. If Baltimore plans to win a shootout over New Orleans’ high octane attack, they will surely need significant contributions from their premier playmaker.

Marshon Lattimore, the Saints top cover man, is questionable to play following a concussion. Even if the former defensive rookie of the year does suit up, Brown should see some opportunities against Crawley. Ranking as PFF’s #102 cornerback this season, his poor coverage is a major reason why the Saints pass defense has allowed nearly 300 yards per game.

With New Orleans boasting the NFL’s top run defense and the Ravens rushing offense struggling, a pass-first game plan is the best way for Baltimore to control time of possession.

ILB Kenny Young vs RB Alvin Kamara

In Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey, the defense does boast the physical cover men capable of limiting elite receiver Michael Thomas. And a stout run defense should minimize the damage from Mark Ingram on the ground. However, Alvin Kamara’s unique skillset is a mismatch against any defense in the NFL.

Kamara has accumulated better than 160 all-purpose yards per game this season, along with six scores. He is a dangerous weapon catching passes out of the backfield with the speed and elusiveness to take every touch to the end zone. Hemming in the scatback will require a team effort spearheaded by athletic rookie ‘backer Kenny Young.

Preventing chunk plays from Kamara could be the decisive factor when the Saints march into the elements of Baltimore’s home stadium.