This week on Monday Night Football we’ll get a matchup between the 5-3 Ravens and the 3-5 Saints.
Both teams have been plagued by injury troubles that they’ve had to adjust to throughout the season and even up to this week, with both Baltimore and New Orleans announcing on Thursday that one of their top WRs would be out for the remainder of the season.
The Saints are coming off a shutout win over the Raiders, which appeared to get them back on track after having off-and-on struggles throughout the season. They have yet to win two games in a row, but will be looking to change that this week with Andy Dalton now the quarterback for the foreseeable future. In an NFC South where no one has really pulled away, a win for the Saints could put them right back in contention for the division.
The Ravens have also had some close losses, but held off the Buccaneers in last week’s Thursday Night Football game, winning 27-22 for their first winning streak of the season. Now with an extra-long rest and back on prime-time TV on Monday, Baltimore will be looking to build on that win and stay on top of the AFC North.
A fun aspect of this matchup is the prime-time component, in which one team holds a distinct historical advantage. Lamar Jackson has proven to be up to the challenge of the bright lights of prime time, ranking third in win percentage for QBs in prime-time games since 2000 with an 11-4 record. And only the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott has a higher passer rating than Jackson on Monday Night Football (123.0).
In contrast, Dalton has not had much success on prime time, coming into Monday on a six-game losing streak in such games, including a loss to the Cardinals just a few weeks ago during which he threw two pick-sixes.
Of course anything could happen on this Monday night, and we’ll have to see how things play out beyond what history and record predict.
Here are four things to watch for when the Ravens visit the Saints:
- How will Jackson deal with injuries on offense? For the second year in a row, injuries to key players have the possibility of deeply affecting the Ravens offense. Earlier this week came the news that wide receiver Rashod Bateman would be out for the remainder of the season after getting surgery to address a Lisfranc injury. So Jackson’s No. 1 WR is gone. In addition, Jackson’s favorite target, TE Mark Andrews (knee), is out for Monday, while RB Gus Edwards (hamstring), who only just came back from injured reserve a couple of weeks ago, is doubtful. Both Edwards and Andrews were active last week after being labeled as questionable, but both also exited the game early with injuries and were not able to fully contribute. The fact that there’s a possibility that the Ravens’ No. 1 wide receiver, tight end and running back will all be unavailable on Monday is a concern and raises questions about how the offense will perform with its top performers not fully healthy.
- Can Kamara run over the Baltimore D? Running back Alvin Kamara is going to face a challenge in the Ravens' front. While the Baltimore pass defense has been less than stellar, its rush defense is ranked fifth in the league and will provide a formidable test. Kamara’s numbers aren’t quite at the level of some of the leading rushers this season and he’s only broken 100 total rushing yards in one game. But he’s been one of the Saints’ most consistent pieces, and they’ve relied on him heavily, leading to Kamara having the most touches of any RB since Week 5. Against the Raiders last week, Kamara had one of his strongest performances of the season by supplementing his rushing duties with receiving opportunities. He finished as the Saints’ leading rusher (62 yards) and receiver (96 yards), and scored all three of New Orleans’ touchdowns, showing his two-way skills. But there’s a difference between the Raiders’ low-ranked defense and the Ravens’ considerably stronger unit. Considering how crucial Kamara’s role is on the offense, the way this matchup plays out will be important in determining the game’s outcome.
- How will the Ravens' new acquisition affect the game? Baltimore traded for Roquan Smith less than a week ago, sending 2023 second- and fifth-round picks to Chicago to acquire the linebacker. And based on what the coaches have said, Smith will be available to play versus the Saints, barring a setback. Baltimore is ranked 28th in passing defense and 20th in points allowed, so by obtaining a quality tackler like Smith, there is hope he’ll help improve a defensive unit that has had some issues holding strong in key moments. The Ravens have blown leads of 10 or more points in all three of their losses, and some of the wins have been closer than necessary at the end as well. Smith has been a solid player this season for the Bears, leading the league in combined tackles (83) and also collecting 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. The Ravens acquired Smith with the hope that he’d be a boost to their struggling defense. Will his presence be felt in his first outing with Baltimore, and will that translate into a strong individual performance from Smith, an overall improvement on defense, or maybe both?
- Can Dalton continue to collect wins as the starter? Dalton has officially been named the Saints’ starter for the foreseeable future, earning the role through his play over the last five weeks while Jameis Winston recovered from injuries, managing to hold on to the starting spot even now that Winston is healed up. But what now? Despite the Saints offense sitting in the top 10 in most major offensive categories, New Orleans has a losing record and hasn’t been able to string together multiple wins in a row under either quarterback. Last week’s performance was encouraging, with Dalton finishing with a 117.2 passer rating and 229 yards on 22-of-30 passing in the blowout. But can that be sustained? The Ravens have their struggles in passing defense, as mentioned, so this could be an opportunity for Dalton to really make a statement and show that he can lead the team to wins on a consistent basis. He’ll definitely need to continue to play at a high level to justify the decision coach Dennis Allen made to name him the starter, or it could be back to the backup role.