The Ravens' defense made national headlines with its dominating outing in Tennessee. That's what 11 sacks will do for you.
Inevitably, the performance has heightened hopes for an encore. But the odds of buying a winning Powerball ticket are better than the odds of seeing Baltimore sack Drew Brees 11 times Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
Brees, the New Orleans Saints' first-ballot Hall of Famer-in-waiting, hits the ground less than just about any NFL quarterback. He has been sacked eight times in five games this season.
Aside from his line's effective protection, Brees gets rid of the ball quickly – a strategy that worked for Cincinnati's Andy Dalton against the Ravens in Week 2. According to NextGen Stats, Brees releases the ball in 2.52 seconds on average, faster than every quarterback in the league except Sam Bradford.
This doesn't mean the Ravens have no shot at sacking Brees in Sunday's heavyweight matchup of the NFL's top-rated defense and top-rated offense. But it's a good bet the Ravens' defense will need to rely mostly on something other than sacks to limit Brees.
Those other elements likely won't include many turnovers, either. Brees, 39, was prone to throwing interceptions earlier in his career, but not anymore. He threw a league-high 19 picks in 2012, but just eight last season and none so far in 190 attempts this season. That's right, zero.
So if they can't do it with sacks or picks, how ARE the Ravens going to slow Brees enough to give them a shot at winning? It's a good question, and here is what I see as the answer, i.e., Sunday's defensive keys for Baltimore:
+ Stop the run. The Saints work hard at being balanced on offense, which helps Brees. Although they only rank No. 19 in the league in rushing, their top back, Alvin Kamara, averages a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale called him "dynamic." The Saints have their 1-2 punch back with the return of Mark Ingram from suspension, and he scored two touchdowns in his first game. Martindale's defensive blueprint starts with stopping the run and making opposing offenses one-dimensional. It worked in Tennessee and needs to work again.
+ Tight press coverage on Brees' receivers. The Saints' offense amounts to a master class in timing; everything happens in a snap, almost before you know it. If you can disrupt that timing, however, you're halfway home. The best way is to keep the receivers covered right at the snap. You'll know things are going well on that front if you see a pump fake or two from Brees.
+ Solid tackling. You have to go deep into the yards-after-catch rankings to find New Orleans' starting wideouts and tight end Benjamin Watson. That's not their thing, it seems. Meanwhile, with just a few exceptions, the Ravens' tackling has been airtight. They'll need to keep that going, keep short and medium receptions from becoming something bigger.
+ Keep Brees off the field. This is the secret weapon against any top offense, and with the Ravens ranked No. 2 in the league in time of possession, they have a shot at doing it. But the Saints are also no slouches in possession, ranked No. 8. It's important in any game for a defense to make plays on third down, but it's really important Sunday.
+ Confuse him. Admittedly, this is a longshot. An 18-year veteran, Brees has seen everything. But a key to the Ravens' defensive success so far as been the pre-snap movement that leaves quarterbacks guessing where, if at all, pressure is coming from. I would say this: If Martindale has any new tricks up his sleeve, this would be a good time to use them.
In the Saints' last game, against the Washington Redskins, they torched another top defense for 43 points. But that was at home, in a dome, on an emotional night when Brees set the all-time league record for passing yards. Sunday, they'll be playing on the road and outside, in October cool.
It could be none of that matters. But if the Ravens' defense checks off some or all of the above boxes, Baltimore won't experience the same discouraging fate as the Redskins.