Week 10 Thursday night preview
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Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons
The Ravens have been running quarterback Joe Flacco on sneaks in short-down situations in recent weeks, but Baltimore may not need such risky gimmicks against Atlanta's front four. The Falcons rank 23rd in the NFL in Power Success, which means that they've allowed first downs or touchdowns on 71 percent of all plays in which opposing offenses have third or fourth downs with two yards or fewer to go.
Baltimore's run defense, formerly a team strength, is even more vulnerable to power running (the kind of running that Falcons' back Michael Turner prefers) - they're 19th in Adjusted Line Yards, 28th in Power Success (73 percent), and 29th in Stuffed Rank, which indicates plays in which the ball carrier ins tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. The Ravens have caused those stuffs on just 14 percent of running plays, a steep decline from the 21 percent they put up in 2009. Turner is one of the league's most efficient backs this season per Football Outsiders' advanced metrics.
We always talk about the usual quarterback success stories - Manning, Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees. But is there a hotter quarterback from Week 3 to now than Flacco? Not likely. After putting up subpar DVOA totals against the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 1 and 2, Flacco has averaged a single-game DVOA of 53.4% per week. That puts him far ahead of Rivers, the NFL's current DVOA leader at the position. That's bad news for an Atlanta pass defense that has been increasingly vulnerable over the last month, giving up its worst DVOA totals in Weeks 6 and 7, and playing at just a league average level in Week 8.
On the other side, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is putting up great DVOA numbers in his last few games after a short slump. He's facing a Ravens pass defense that can't seem to string two great performances together - since Week 2, the team has alternated between positive and negative DVOA totals each week (remember that because DVOA marks a team's ability to score and present scoring situations, Defensive DVOA is better when it's negative).
The Falcons have converted 56 of 121 third-down situations, which is second in the league behind the New Orleans Saints, but their defense has allowed 45 of 99 third-down conversions, which is fourth-worst. The Ravens have allowed just 38 percent of those conversions to their opponents, and their offense has made 41 percent. The Falcons rank fifth in average time of possession per game, and the Ravens rank ninth.
So, if you see a lot of extended drives, don't be surprised at all. Both teams have dynamic rushing attacks that feed the passing game - neither team passes to set up the run. They've both worked to find passing balance with improved receiver corps, but head coaches Mike Smith (Atlanta) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore) each subscribe to the smash-mouth theory to an extended degree.
Each of these defenses has an underrated player. For the Falcons, it's defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Last season, he was among the leaders in most of Football Outsiders' individual metrics for defensive linemen, and he's having another fine season in 2010. For the Ravens, with all the talk about their front seven, "endbacker" Terrell Suggs has belied his rep as a pure pass rusher by being pretty stout against the run, especially in crucial situations. Suggs is among the league leaders in FO's Stop Rate metric against the run, which measures a player's or defense's ability to prevent successful conversions and conversion percentages.
It's a very appealing matchup of two division-leading 6-2 teams, and it should be a tight one.