New Orleans Saints-Baltimore Ravens slobberknocker


The New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens are fairly evenly matched, but just how do the pieces line up, exactly? To find out, let’s look through the advanced stats produced by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, which predict a good old-fashioned, knock-down, drag-out fight between two teams playing off each other’s strengths.

Connelly breaks down his methodology here, but the long and short of it is that legendary San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh long ago established which situations can best lead to success – or failure. Connelly took Walsh’s ideas, then ran them against the numbers to find the best-possible way of measuring teams from one week and year to the next. To quote from Connelly’s own explanation, the most-important situations on both offense and defense include:

  • Normal down and distance in the open field

  • Backed-up situations near the goal line

  • Third downs

  • Different levels of the red zone

  • Blitz situations

Connelly also provides a useful sorting tool to compare teams against each other. So I borrowed what it shows for the Saints and Ravens through Week 6, flipped the orientation on the Ravens’ graph so their defense lines up against the Saints offense (and vice versa), and here we are:

The first thing you’ll notice is how well the Ravens are playing on defense. They’re playing so well, in fact, that they haven’t allowed a passing touchdown when defending their home field in 2018. Baltimore is just as strong defending the open field and limiting big plays as New Orleans in attacking them. But what’s troubling is the Ravens’ success in getting off the field on third down. Their defense ranks first in the league with a 23.9 percent success rate, while the Saints’ offense is a pedestrian 37.8 percent.

In other words, the Ravens defense is just as good at stopping the things the Saints offense does best – and maybe better.

Things get interesting when Baltimore has the ball. Their offense is good on third down but otherwise not that challenging. Former Saints receiver Willie Snead has caught more third and fourth down conversions (8) than any other player in that offense. Take Snead away and they’re suddenly vulnerable.

John “Smokey” Brown has given them a badly-needed deep threat, posting eight catches of 20 or more yards at 36.7 yards per catch. But he’s come back to earth in his last two games, logging just 28 and 58 yards while catching less than half the passes thrown his way. Outside of Brown, the Ravens have trouble generating big plays: their next-best option is Michael Crabtree, who has just five catches of 20 or more yards at a much more manageable 21.6 yards per catch.

The big question will be if a Saints defense that seems to be on the rise is really returning to its 2017 form. They’ve really cut down on the big plays allowed; while their season total ranks low leaguewide (21 passing plays of 20-plus yards), more than half of the chunk plays came in the first two weeks. Washington found a couple openings in garbage time against prevent looks. If the Saints’ run defense continues to stifle opponents, the Ravens will be forced to throw – a risky proposition given their low success rate on standard downs and marginal explosiveness.

So here’s a TL;DR: The Saints offense will be the toughest challenge the Ravens defense has seen all year, but Baltimore’s defense is also the best unit New Orleans will face in 2018. The Ravens offense is more inept than they appear at first glance, with two or three newly-signed receivers making most of the critical plays. The Saints defense can do enough to win this game. Just check the numbers.



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Adam Jacob

Military veteran and medically trained.

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