SAINTS // RAVENS OVERVIEW
Sunday afternoon brings us a marquee matchup between a 4-1 Saints team and a 4-2 Ravens team — with the Ravens pulling respect from Vegas as early-week 2.5 point favorites at home. Atypically, the Ravens are the fast-paced team in this matchup, as they rank second in the league in pace of play early on, while the Saints rank down at 25th. Each team ranks middle of the pack in pass play rate, and each team ranks top nine in yards per game (9th :: Baltimore // 3rd :: New Orleans). The Saints have scored the most points per game in the NFL, while Baltimore ranks 12th.
The key matchup here will be the Saints’ offense against the Ravens’ defense, as New Orleans ranks first in the league in drive success rate, while the Ravens have allowed the lowest drive success rate in the NFL. Six weeks into the season, Baltimore has been this year’s Jaguars, with the fewest yards allowed per game (270.8 — with the next-best team way behind them at 306.5) and the fewest points allowed per game (12.8 — far ahead of the second-place team at 17.2). This is the toughest test yet for the Ravens, but this is a no-joke unit.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE
Let’s get this out of the way at the top: A difficult matchup lowers floor, and it lowers the chances of a player hitting his ceiling — but a difficult matchup does not eliminate ceiling altogether. We say that from time to time, but since we are talking about the extraordinary upside of Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and the rest of this Saints offense, that is worth mentioning at the top. Upside remains on these guys — but our exploration of this matchup will allow us to get a feel for how likely this upside is to hit, and for how much lower than normal the floor becomes.
Baltimore is playing extremely tight coverage — leading to the lowest catch rate in the league, and to the eighth-lowest YAC per reception mark, an interesting setup for a guy in Thomas who has a scary-low aDOT for his price (7.3 — in the same range as guys like Randall Cobb, Jarius Wright, and Cole Beasley), and who needs to post high efficiency on high target counts in order to justify his salary. In Week 4, it took Antonio Brown 11 targets to go 5-62-1 against Baltimore, and it took JuJu Smith-Schuster 11 targets to go 4-60-0. Demaryius Thomas posted 63 yards against the Ravens in Week 2, while Emmanuel Sanders went for 38 yards. The best hope for Thomas appears to be something in line with the 6-91-1 line Tyler Boyd put up in this matchup in Week 2, or the 5-69-3 line that A.J. Green smoked Baltimore with that same week (on nine targets). Obviously, touchdowns will be the biggest key in this spot, as yardage upside and catch volume will be iffy propositions.
Only eight teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Ravens, and they are one of only two teams in the NFL that has not yet allowed a pass play of 40+ yards, creating a tough situation for whichever guy steps into the lid-lifter role in this offense (Ted Ginn missed practice on Wednesday, after missing the game a couple weeks ago, which could open the door for Tre’Quan Smith to take over this role again).
Cameron Meredith also missed practice on Wednesday, and he has yet to top five targets in a game. If he plays, he’ll be the fourth or fifth option most passing plays.
One of the best ways for the Saints to move the ball will be with Benjamin Watson, as Baltimore has allowed the ninth-most receptions and the 11th-most yards to the tight end position, in spite of having played three teams (Bills, Broncos, and Titans) that hardly use the tight end. Watson has slim target counts on the year (4 // 5 // 6 // 3 // 4).
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE
It is difficult to take too much away from the Saints’ game against the Redskins a couple weeks back, as Brees’ 29 pass attempts (a season low) came with New Orleans winning 43-19. Furthermore, Brees notched 362 yards and three touchdowns on those limited opportunities, so it’s not as if he was leaving a ton on the table. From a bigger-picture perspective, however, it is certainly noteworthy that the Saints ranked 20th in pass play rate last year with Mark Ingram in the fold, and they have been trending back toward that mark in recent weeks. Ingram played 55% of the Saints’ snaps in his first game back, touching the ball 18 times and seeing a massive three carries inside the five-yard-line (which he turned into two touchdowns). This offseason, there seemed to be a lot of “analysis based on hopefulness” that stated Alvin Kamara would see a much bigger role this year while Ingram would take a backseat, but realistically, this offense functions best when both guys are involved. As such, we should expect each guy to see ebbs and flows from week to week. Most weeks last season, both guys performed well — but there were some weeks in which one guy hit at the cost of the other. There are some floor concerns on each guy — as evidenced by Kamara’s nine touches for 39 yards in Week 5.
Only three teams have allowed fewer receptions to running backs than the Ravens, and they have yet to allow a receiving touchdown to backs, with only one rushing touchdown allowed as well. This is a difficult setup for both guys in this split backfield. Touchdowns will be important for either guy to have a shot at hitting — though it does seem likely that Kamara will see a few extra looks through the air as the Saints look for ways to poke holes in this defense, giving him an opportunity to rack up some points through receptions. Kamara will still see usage close to the goal line as well, so either guy has a shot at finding his way into the end zone this week.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE
Baltimore ranks all the way down at 26th in yards per pass attempt on offense, but because they are playing at the second-fastest pace in the NFL and are running the most plays per game in the league, they have managed to rack up the ninth most passing yards per game. This week, they will take on a New Orleans team that ranks 30th in passing yards allowed per game, with the third-highest completion rate allowed in the league.
Digging in a bit deeper: New Orleans is allowing high floors for pass catchers, with “completed passes” so easy to come by, but upside has been thinner on wide receivers than most have probably realized. Since getting pasted by DeSean Jackson (146 yards) and Mike Evans (147 yards) in Week 1, New Orleans has allowed only one other 100-yard game (146 yards to Calvin Ridley, fueled by a busted coverage that turned into a 75-yard catch and run), while holding Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Julio Jones below that mark.
Taking away the Week 1 mirage and the busted play to Ridley, the best way to beat this team has been on intermediate drag routes, out routes, comebacks, and curls — which fits perfectly with the route tree of both Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. As you have probably noticed, I’ve been a fan of Snead lately (he quietly has target counts on the year of 6 // 8 // 5 // 7 // 7 // 10, with an aDOT of 8.6), and it was refreshing last week to see solid ownership on Crabtree in the $3k Milly Maker, as Crabtree also has a legitimate role in this offense (target counts on the year of 6 // 10 // 10 // 8 // 12 // 9, with an aDOT of 9.8). Neither guy is likely to top 100 yards, but each guy still carries a strong floor and ceiling for his price. Crabtree has six red zone targets and three looks inside the 10-yard-line, compared to only two red zone targets and zero looks inside the 10 for Snead.
The leader on this team is the NFL’s leader in average depth of target, John Brown. Brown has bookend games right now of four targets in Week 1 and three targets in Week 6, but he posted target counts of 10 // 9 // 7 // 14 in the games in between. He also has three targets inside the 10-yard-line. He has the toughest draw in this spot against Marshon Lattimore, who has regained form lately, allowing 120 total receiving yards across his last four games, after allowing 115 yards in Week 1 alone. The Ravens have shown that they are going to take downfield shots with JB no matter what, so the upside remains; but his chances of hitting for big plays in this spot are lowered.
Behind these guys, the Ravens continue to run a messy timeshare at tight end. The receivers are the bankable bets for this team moving the ball through the air.
RAVENS RUN OFFENSE
Ravens running backs have not been reliably playable all season, with Alex Collins averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and 1.5 receptions per game, and with Javorius Allen averaging 2.8 yards per carry and dropping to four touches last week. New Orleans has been nails against the run this year, ranking first in fewest yards allowed per carry and first in fewest rushing yards allowed per game. New Orleans has also been above-average stopping running backs out of the backfield, allowing the eighth-fewest receptions to the position.
If going here, your best bet is to hope for a multi-touchdown game from Alex Collins, who regained his red zone role last week. You could also create a justification for Allen by betting on a game flow in which the Saints jump out to a lead and the Ravens have to keep Allen and his pass-catching role on the field in catch-up mode. Neither is the likeliest scenario.
I’ll be staying away from the Saints’ passing attack, as the best options are Michael Thomas (bet on talent and usage) and Ben Watson (bet on the best matchup for this offense). Thomas’ price is too high for me to want to go there in a matchup like this (it won’t be shocking if he posts a solid game, but we should be hunting for week-winning scores in his price range), while Watson falls far shy of Njoku, who is the bar against which other tight ends should be measured this week.
I won’t spend up on Kamara or bet on the carries for Ingram — though I do love where Ingram’s price sits right now, and I’ll be pulling for a poor game from him in the hopes that his price remains low moving forward.
On the Ravens’ side, the backfield is hands-off, but there are some interesting things to consider in the passing attack, with Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead each carrying solid floor in this game, and with Crabtree’s red zone role even giving him a bit of ceiling. John Brown also carries big upside — though his chances of hitting are a bit lower in this spot.