In some ways the short week of preparation for the Ravens week 10 match-up in Atlanta has been a good thing. They have had less time to be distracted by “spit-gate” and Ray Rice’s twitter feed. All the questions and scrutiny that would likely have followed those events in a regular week, have been moved to the back burner while the Ravens have had little time to focus on much else than the Falcons. The focus should be there come Thursday night, but will the Ravens have their legs, especially along the offensive line. The Ravens are coming off their most balanced offensive game of the season. A game in which the run and pass were equally effective and a game in which the Ravens opened up things with a fake punt and a surprise end-around to rookie David Reed. Will the Ravens move the ball as well against a tougher defense on the road? And will they be able to eliminate mistakes in the red zone and maximize their scoring opportunities? In my opinion they can have another strong showing, but it will depend on the play of the offensive line. Here is how I think the Ravens can attack the Falcons.
On the Ground: The Atlanta Falcons have been a stingy run defense through 8 games of the 2010 NFL season. They rank 6th in the NFL against the run allowing just under 96 yards per game. It will be a difficult task to run the ball effectively against the Falcons, for one they run a true 4-3 base defense. The Ravens have sen very little this season in the way of a 4-3. Atlanta has good size and mobility along their defensive front, which makes them good against the run. The Ravens offensive line has also struggled in recent weeks to get a lot of push, especially in short yardage situations. C Matt Birk is showing some signs of age in the run game, compound that with the smallish G Chris Chester and the Ravens are not strong at the point of attack and have not been getting lineman into the second level to block linebackers very often. That said the Ravens cannot abandon the run game. Rice and Willis McGahee are playing some of their best ball right now and the Ravens need the run game, or at least the threat of it to open things up for Joe Flacco. To be effective on the ground, the Ravens will need to run the ball out of more passing sets. Spread the Falcons out some, run draw plays and other plays designed to get Rice and McGahee in space. The screen game could also be an effective weapon, as it was against Miami. A big factor in winning this game could be whether or not the Ravens can gain 125 or more on the ground. The Falcons defense could be a bit worn out after a tough game with Tampa Bay. The Ravens need to wear the Falcons down some with a few body blows on the ground.
Through the Air: As good as the Falcons have been against the run, they have been worse defending the pass. The Falcons are also a bit banged up in the secondary, a secondary that is not strong to begin with. Facing CB’s Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, Flacco could have a big game against Atlanta’s 26th ranked pass defense. The word is that the Ravens are going to work Donte Stallworth in the game plan even more this week. This should enable the Ravens to spread Atlanta out, but can they hit Stallworth for a big play or 2 in the passing game, or will he be more of a decoy? Either way his presence could be felt, but it would be huge if the Ravens can be effective throwing the ball down field against the Falcons. Flacco also needs to stay awyfrom turnovers. He has managed to do so in recent weeks throwing 129 passes without a pick (although a few passes should have been picked). Atlanta also has a high number of interceptions on the year with 13. Many of those picks have come as a result of QB pressure and tipped balls. Again it will be key for the offensive line to keep Flacco clean and for Flaccoto be smart. He has done a good job of being smart with the ball and sometimes that means taking a sack or throwing the ball away. If the line keeps Atlanta’s rushers at bay, Flacco’s size whould allow for clear passing lanes.
The Falcons have a big advantage being at home on a short week. Matt Ryan’s numbers are strong in the Georgia Dome and the team, as well as their fans, will be fired up. The Ravens need to weather the early storm, stay away from turnovers and penalties on offense and they can silence the Dome. If those things happen the Ravens can put impressive point totals on the board against a Falcons defense that has surrendered 31, 32 and 21 points over the last three weeks.