SCOUTING REPORT: The Ravens offense hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders lately, but the Saints still must slow its impressive go-to guy, Justin Forsett
The Saints could be catching the Ravens at the right time.
After starting the season 5-2, Baltimore has lost two of its past three games and appears to be struggling a bit on offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 303 yards on 66.7 percent passing two weeks ago in a 43-23 loss to Pittsburgh. But in the game before that, a 27-24 loss to Cincinnati, Flacco passed for 195 yards on 50 percent passing with a pair of interceptions. Last week against the Titans, he passed for 169 yards on 59.3 percent passing with a touchdown.
It’s worth noting that Flacco has been sacked seven times in the past four games.
As far as the receivers go, Steve Smith has almost been a nonfactor recently and has 14 catches for 155 yards in his past four games. Jacoby Jones has struggled to get anything going, and Torrey Smith has 12 catches in the past four games — though three of those went for touchdowns.
If these struggles continue, this is good news for the Saints, who are battling through injuries and turnover in the secondary. The bigger test will be for those in the front seven, who will be tasked with stopping a running game that is averaging 124.1 yards per game.
That attack is led by Justin Forsett, who has run 133 times for 721 yards, leading all running backs at 5.4 yards per carry. He is eighth in the NFL with eight runs of 15 or more yards and has gained 313 yards after contact.
Slowing Forsett could be a difficult task for New Orleans. The Saints have quietly had issues with stopping the run this season and rank 19th in the NFL at 4.3 yards allowed per attempt.
Those issues were on full display last week as former LSU running back Jeremy Hill ran for 152 yards on 27 carries, though the bulk of his production came on a 62-yard run near the end of the first half.
Forsett has the talent to make it hurt if New Orleans again struggles to stop the run.
Know your opponent: Ravens DT Haloti Ngata
It’s starting to feel as though the Saints are on a tour to face the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
Last week’s test against Geno Atkins could be chalked up as a victory for New Orleans. Its prize for containing the Bengals defensive tackle is a visit from Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata.
Ngata hasn’t done much damage by himself. The nose tackle has only recorded 13 hurries this season, according to Pro Football Focus, to go with a pair of sacks, but those numbers do not properly illustrate his involvement on defense. The defensive tackle has a knack for absorbing blocks and opening lanes for his teammates to do damage in both the running and passing games. Success Monday night will not be measured by the numbers Ngata posts; it will be determined by how easy things are for his teammates.
And those guys know how to get after the quarterback. Baltimore’s leading pass rusher is linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has 10.5 sacks this season. He’s followed by Terrell Suggs, who has five.
So the Saints will have their hands full this week.
And it all starts with winning the battle in the middle.
Three and out
1. COOKING SOMETHING NEW: The Saints need to find a way to replace Brandin Cooks’ production on offense and find another player who can return punts.
2. SAFETY SHUFFLE: The secondary has been one of the weak points of the team this season. Those issues will be placed under a magnifying glass this week as the Saints attempt to replace free safety Rafael Bush.
3. PROTECTING BREES: Drew Brees has faced far too much pressure this season, and the Saints will be up against it this week facing a team that knows how to get after the quarterback.
OUT: RB Khiry Robinson (forearm), LB Kyle Knox (hand)
-- Neither participated in team drills ahead of the Ravens game. This will be the fifth game Robinson misses. Knox has only been active in three games.
QUESTIONABLE: WR Robert Meachem (ankle)
-- Meachem was limited in team drills ahead of the Ravens game. He has missed the past three games.
PROBABLE: RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder), RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), CB Keenan Lewis (knee), T Zach Strief (chest), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder)
-- The big news is Thomas, who appears poised to return to action after missing four games. He was a practice participant all week, albeit limited.
OUT: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), G Jah Reid (hand)
PROBABLE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), FB Kyle Juszczyk (foot), DT Haloti Ngata (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (knee)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Ravens 27, Saints 17
The Saints haven’t lost three straight in New Orleans since 2001. It’s incomprehensible to think that would happen to a team that won 20 straight under coach Sean Payton between 2011 and Week 8 of this season — but Baltimore’s good enough on both sides of the ball to do what Cincinnati did Nov. 16 and San Francisco did Nov. 9.
Nick Underhill: Ravens 24, Saints 20
The Saints cannot currently be trusted. Last week’s loss to the Bengals was the most disheartening defeat of the season. I fully expect to be punished for my lack of faith in this team this week, but logic says it’s time to pick against the Saints until they earn back our trust.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 23, Ravens 20
The stench from the Saints’ effort against Cincinnati has blown out of the Superdome, and there’s a new smell: desperation. New Orleans can’t go 0-3 on the homestand that wraps up Monday night against the Ravens and win even the NFC South. Despite injuries and ineffectiveness, the Saints have won 14 straight prime-time home games. They keep the streak alive. Just.