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Ravens News 10/17: Stacking wins at home, historic Brees and more

NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens status check: What we learned in Week 6; what we’re wondering - Aaron Kasinitz

What we learned: The Ravens can move the ball without a big game from John Brown

Brown, a speedy wide receiver, was the Ravens’ most explosive offensive player through the season’s first four games. Then the Browns contained Brown in Week 5, and Baltimore’s offense sputtered. Well, the Ravens rebound Sunday, and the strong performance came in Brown’s least productive game of the season (2 catches for 28 yards). With Tennessee shifting its attention to Brown’s side of the field, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead combined for 13 catches and Flacco spread the ball around to seven different targets. Baltimore also converted 12 of 17 third downs.

What we’re wondering: Was Sunday’s formula a sustainable one?

As the Titans designed their game plan to limit Brown, the Ravens moved the ball down the field methodically. They didn’t have an offensive play that went for more than 27 yards and needed to convert third and longs to extend drives. It all worked Sunday, but typically, NFL teams rely on productive deep threats or a study running game to maintain effectiveness. We’ll see how opponents defend the Ravens moving forward — and whether Baltimore can regularly move the chains now that teams are focusing more attention on Brown.

The Ravens will likely need a few big plays from their top playmaker, John Brown, when they face New Orleans this Sunday.

Todd Gurley Still the Engine of the Rams’ Offense, Why Adam Thielen Is So Hard to Cover - Albert Breer

Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale deserves a ton of credit for the step that an already-good Baltimore unit has taken over the first six weeks of this season. How’s he done it? As I’ve heard it, the players have been wowed at how detailed Martindale has been in preparing them for just about every situation that comes up and arming them with counters for whatever the offense might throw at them. He’s also empowered safety Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley with latitude to make checks if they’re in a bad coverage or need to send a blitzer, which has allowed the other guys to play with confidence and freedom. And in return, Martindale’s gotten investment and a boatload of results—the Ravens rank first in the league in total defense, scoring defense, yards per play, yards per pass play, sack percentage, and first downs allowed, and second in third-down defense.

An underrated factor in the defensive improvement is the development of young players. After gaining experience in the NFL over the last few seasons, defenders such as Tavon Young, Marlon Humphrey, Za’Darius Smith, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry and others have entered the primes of their careers.

After Stretch of Road Games, Ravens Want to Stack Wins at Home - Clifton Brown

Returning to M&T Bank Stadium does not guarantee success for the Ravens. Their next four opponents all have winning records.

The Ravens host the New Orleans Saints (4-1) Sunday, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Then after a road game against the Carolina Panthers (4-2), the Ravens will return home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1), Bengals (4-2), and Oakland Raiders (1-5).

“Like Terrell Suggs said in the locker room last night, winning a game like that (at Tennessee) on the road doesn’t mean nearly as much if you can’t follow it up. You’ve got to back it up with another win,” Harbaugh said.

“What you need to do in the NFL is stack wins. You need to find a way to get on a roll. If we can stack a win on top of that win, then it really starts to mean something. But it’s a huge challenge whether you’re on the road or at home, playing against the Saints.”

With road games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers looming on the December schedule, adding three or four wins over the next five games will be important.

Can a Dominant Defense Still Rise to the Top in Today’s NFL? - John Eisenberg

“Defense wins championships” was a fundamental axiom for decades, supported almost annually by evidence. The Ravens certainly supported it with their first Super Bowl run.

But times have changed. Teams ranked No. 1 and No. 7 in total offense played in the Super Bowl last year. They ousted teams with the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses in the conference finals.

Given the NFL’s general offensive-mindedness, there’ll surely be Sundays when the Ravens’ offense has to bail out the defense. Hey, it could happen this Sunday when record-setting Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints visit M&T Bank Stadium.

Eisenberg poses an interesting question. If the pass defense continues to improve, specifically by generating consistent pressure while rushing only four coupled with Jimmy Smith regaining his lockdown form, chances are this defense can carry the team to the conference championship. And if the offense proves they can engineer a fourth quarter comeback, a task Joe Flacco has not performed since 2016, these Ravens should be considered not only playoff contenders, but genuine Super Bowl contenders.

Drew Brees’ next historic hurdle: Beating Ravens for first time - Jamison Hensley

In his illustrious, 18-year NFL career, Brees has beaten every team in the league except the Ravens. He is 0-4 against Baltimore but has knocked off all the other teams in the league at least twice (except the Saints, for whom he has played since 2006).

The Ravens have gotten the best of Brees in sunny San Diego (back in 2003, when Brees was the Chargers’ QB), the noisy confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the freezing wind chill in Baltimore. Four Baltimore coordinators (Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Greg Mattison and Dean Pees) have limited Brees to a mediocre total of nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“His vision is unbelievable,” Harbaugh said. “His pocket awareness is the best. He’s very accurate. So he can see. He can find the open the receiver. He knows what he’s looking at pre-snap. He knows what he’s looking at post-snap. He’s not going to miss an open guy very often.”

Drew Brees has completed an incredible 77.9-percent of his passes and has not thrown a single interception this season. His next touchdown pass will be the 500th of his career. Nonetheless, the Ravens are currently 2.5-point favorites against the Saints.