A classic matchup between the NFL's top-ranked defense and one of the league's best offenses is set for Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens face the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
The Ravens (4-2), who boast the No. 1 defense in the league, are the only remaining team that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has not beaten during his 18-year career and Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh wants to keep it that way.
Brees passed Peyton Manning to establish the NFL record for most career passing yards in a Week 5 victory over the Washington Redskins. He has not thrown an interception in his last six regular-season games, the longest such streak of his career, which covers 232 passes.
The veteran also needs just one touchdown pass to reach 500 for his career.
"His vision is unbelievable. His pocket awareness is the best, and he's very accurate," Harbaugh said. "So he can see, he can find the open receiver, and he gets guys in position. They scheme guys open. He knows what he's looking at pre-snap, and he knows what he's looking at post-snap.
"So he's not going to miss an open guy very often, and he has a great feel for the rush. He'll take some sacks if he has to, but only if he has to. He throws; he'll hang in there and make some tight throws when he has pressure all around him. He has the numbers he has for a reason."
The Saints (4-1), coming off a bye week, lead the league in scoring, averaging 36 points per game, but feel like they're getting better.
Leading rusher Mark Ingram II returned after a four-game suspension to give the Saints a 1-2 punch in the backfield with Alvin Kamara.
Veteran wide receiver Cameron Meredith is getting healthier after major knee surgery last year, rookie receiver Tre'Quan Smith is coming off his best game of the season and guard Andrus Peat is also becoming healthier.
"Everybody on the offense can make a play at any moment," Kamara said. "It's just a matter of taking advantage of those opportunities, whether it's Tre'Quan, who's young and still learning the offense, or whether it's Cam, who's young in regards to our offense. Anybody -- me, Mark or Mike (Thomas) -- that's what we preach on is when your opportunity comes, make a play."
The Ravens have allowed the fewest points per game (12.8) and fewest yards per game (270.8) in the NFL. Baltimore also leads the league in sacks (25) after a compiling a franchise-record 11 in a 21-0 win over the Tennessee Titans a week ago.
"You just want to play productive defense, and we had the opportunity to do that," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Our offense did a good job of controlling the time of possession, so we pretty much had a fresh defense. It was a team win, offense, defense, and special teams alike. So, it was a good win. It was a good road win, too."
Baltimore also has not allowed a second-half touchdown in their first six games, the longest streak since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"Certainly, their pass rush (produced), but I think, just as importantly, their efficiency on first and second down really put Tennessee into those certain favorable down and distances that you want defensively," Saints head coach Sean Payton said.
So, an emphasis for the Saints will be to move the ball well enough on first and second down.
"They have a bunch of guys that can get to the quarterback individually, but schematically they have a bunch of disguises and exotic looks that can confuse the front five and the quarterback," Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said. "We're going to have to be great with our communication be great with our game plan."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has passed for 1,788 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been able to effectively use all of his weapons on offense, most notably Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown, who is the deep threat.
"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth -- the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."
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