The Ravens are headed back to the Big Easy for another game on a big stage.
This Week 12 Monday Night Football matchup between the Saints and Ravens may not have quite as much significance as the trip New Orleans two years ago for Super Bowl XLVII, but both teams have plenty on the line.
New Orleans comes into the showdown on a two-game losing skid, and the Ravens need a win to keep pace in a tight division race.
"Nothing is more important than the opponent you have right in front of you," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "In our world, nothing is bigger to us than the New Orleans Saints, and the Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, and that outstanding receiver/tight end Jimmy Graham. It's the biggest game of our season right now."
The Ravens area coming into the game rested and rejuvenated after the bye week, and Head Coach John Harbaugh stressed that he expects his team to come out firing.
"We're going to have our hands full, and we better be ready to go," Harbaugh said. "I like to believe that our guys understand that, but we'll find out Monday night. I believe they do understand that."
Three Matchups To Watch
Secondary vs. Drew Brees
The Saints quarterback has been one of the NFL's best at his position over the last decade, and he's seems destined to receive a gold jacket in Canton once his career is finished. Brees can carve up a defense, and he has topped 5,000 passing yards four times in his career. Meanwhile, the secondary has been a concern for the Ravens throughout the year, as injuries have forced the group to shuffle around several pieces. Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer are now plugged into the lineup at cornerback, and they passed their first test in a Week 10 victory against the Titans and rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Facing Brees is a totally different kind of challenge, and the Ravens need the unit to hold up in New Orleans.
WR Steve Smith Sr. vs. CB Keenan Lewis
The veteran receiver has gone quiet recently, but he plays some of his best football on the biggest stages. A Monday Night Football game against a familiar NFC South foe might just be what the doctor ordered to break him out of the recent skid. Smith called out his old division earlier this year by saying that the NFC South was a "finesse" division, and he'll certainly look to back up those words. In the three games against NFC South teams this season, Smith has 15 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. That's a trend he hopes to continue.
OLB Courtney Upshaw vs. RB Mark Ingram
The former Alabama teammates will go toe-to-toe this week. Upshaw and Ingram played part in some of the most successful teams in Crimson Tide history, as they both won a pair of national titles. Ingram is having the best season of his career,with 618 yards on 138 carries. The bruising running back is an integral part of the Saints offense, and the Ravens are counting on Upshaw to set the edge against his old college teammate.
Three Keys to the Game
Protect The Football
Harbaugh pointed to turnovers as the top item the Ravens need to clean up in order to be more consistent on offense. "It starts with the turnovers," Harbaugh said earlier this week. That's especially true for the matchup with New Orleans. The Ravens can't afford to give New Orleans' potent offense extra possessions, and the Ravens know all too well how turnovers can completely swing a game. Joe Flacco has stressed that the Ravens are "a pretty good team if we don't turn the ball over," and the Ravens need to avoid those costly miscues.
Establish The Run
One way to keep Brees and that offense off the field is by running the ball and eating up clock. The Bengals had success with that approach in last week's upset win over New Orleans, as Cincinnati racked up 186 yards on the ground. The previous week, the 49ers beat the Saints by rushing for 144 yards. The Ravens have the 10th ranked rushing attack in the NFL, and running back Justin Forsett is seventh in the league with 721 rushing yards. Establishing the run is a priority every week, and the Ravens could be on their way to a victory if they're able to get that done Monday.
Make Big Plays, Stop Big Plays
When the Ravens looked at areas to improve on offense and defense, a common theme for both units were the big plays. They need more on offense, and they need to stop more on defense. Playing in the controlled indoor climate of the Superdome is an ideal place to come up with those big plays, and the Saints have burned plenty of opponents that way over the years. The defense will have to keep the Saints' weapons from getting behind them for long gains over the top, and Flacco should look to exploit a hobbled Saints secondary on the play-action pass.