Thursday, November 11, 2010
Five things to watch: Ravens vs. Falcons
By James Walker
Two of the NFL's best teams will meet Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) face the Atlanta Falcons (6-2).
Here are five things to watch from the Ravens:
1. Who controls the tempo? The Falcons want to force opponents into a track meet at the Georgia Dome. The Ravens prefer to be physical and grind it out. The team that controls the tempo should win. I've watched the Falcons twice in person this year against AFC North teams, and I noticed a significant difference when Atlanta controls the pace. The Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 frustrated Atlanta's offense by not giving up big plays in a 15-9 overtime win. The Cincinnati Bengals played right into Atlanta's hands in Week 7 and lost a shootout, 39-32.
2. Can Joe Flacco outduel Matt Ryan? This is a great matchup between the top two quarterbacks from the 2008 draft class. Ryan and Flacco were both taken in the first round and have turned around their franchises. Both have put up comparable numbers, with Ryan having a slight edge this season in passing yards (1,949 to 1,917), TD passes (13 to 12) and interceptions (5 to 6) . This is the first head-to-head meeting between them.
3. Will Baltimore's secondary contain Falcons receiver Roddy White? White is questionable with a knee injury, but according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he is expected to play. White, who has 58 catches for 796 yards and five TDs, is one of the more dynamic receivers in the league. Baltimore's pass coverage has been shaky and there's some turnover at cornerback. Josh Wilson, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, has been getting more playing time recently in place of Fabian Washington. Wilson is expected to start .
4. Can the Ravens improve in the red zone? Baltimore beat the Miami Dolphins last week pretty convincingly despite going just 1-for-7 in the red zone. A similar lack of production could hurt the Ravens against Atlanta's high-powered offense. The Ravens gained 402 yards against the Dolphins but struggled to execute inside the 20. It was a busy day for kicker Billy Cundiff, who made four field goals for Baltimore.
5. Will Ed Reed make a big play? Coming off offseason hip surgery, Reed has not lost his ability to make game-changing plays. He has three interceptions in two games. Against Atlanta, there will be plenty of opportunities for Reed to make an impact. The Falcons challenge defenses vertically, and Reed is usually Baltimore's last line of defense. Look out if Reed (49 career interceptions) gets the ball in his hands.