NFL Preview – Atlanta (2-4) at Baltimore (4-2) (ET)

By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

( – Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens will try to extend
the road woes of the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday when the two clubs clash at
M&T Bank Stadium.

Flacco is coming off a game for the ages, throwing five touchdown passes while
notching a franchise-record 146.0 quarterback rating in a 48-17 rout of Tampa
Bay. All five throwing scores came in the game’s first 16 minutes and three
seconds of action, making him the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach
five touchdown passes to start a game.

Baltimore scored on its first six possessions, with Flacco hitting Torrey
Smith for a pair of scores as well as fellow receivers Kamar Aiken, Michael
Campanaro and Steve Smith Sr. once each.

“Definitely a fun day,” Flacco said. “When we got opportunities, we really
capitalized. You definitely don’t get those (types of games) too often. It was
very enjoyable. I don’t know if I’ve ever had five touchdown passes in a game

Smith ended with five catches for 110 yards and running back Justin Forsett
added 111 yards on 14 carries as Baltimore rebounded after scoring just 13
points the previous week in a loss to Indianapolis, one that snapped a three-
game win streak.

“For Joe and the wide receivers and the offensive line to do what they did
early is just historic,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh stated. “A lot of
hard work pays off, and it paid off in the execution of our passing game

Baltimore’s defense, meanwhile, got at least a half-sack from at five
different players and cornerback Jimmy Smith added an interception.

At 4-2, the Ravens lead the AFC North, while the Falcons have fallen back in
the AFC South thanks to three straight losses that have dropped them to 2-4 on
the year.

Atlanta has lost all three of its road games this season and even a return to
the Georgia Dome couldn’t get the club on track last weekend. The Falcons were
outgained by nearly 200 yards on offense in a 27-13 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Matt Ryan threw for 271 yards on 19-of-37 passing with a touchdown and an
interception and Antone Smith had a 41-yard receiving score for Atlanta, which
racked up just 287 yards of offense to Chicago’s 478.

“We put ourselves in some tough situations, especially early on in the first
half of the game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We were 1-for-5 on third
downs (in first half) and we were not able to get anything going offensively.
Conversely, on the defensive side of the ball, we had a tough time slowing
them down.”

Atlanta will its third road game in four weeks on Sunday and has lost five
straight and 10 of its last 11 as the guest dating back to last season.

The Falcons and Ravens have split four all-time meetings, with Atlanta beating
Baltimore 26-21 at home in the most recent encounter on Nov. 11, 2010.

Ryan threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in that meeting, while Flacco
notched 215 yards passing and three scores with one interception.


Flacco’s air raid into the end zone was great to see for the Ravens, but so
was the 169 yards they amassed on the ground. That was led by Forsett, who
leads the NFL with 6.38 yards per carry and is tied for the league lead with 6
20-plus-yard carries.

Forsett averaged 7.9 yards per carry versus the Bucs, getting a healthy bulk
of that on a 52-yard carry. While not an option in the passing game, he is at
least giving Baltimore a big-play threat it has lacked since losing Ray Rice.

Steve Smith, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down as he has a trio of 50-
yard touchdown catches on the year. He is the fourth player in NFL history to
reach that mark in a season at the age of 35 or older.

As a former Carolina Panther, the wideout has seen plenty of action against
the Falcons and has 20 receptions for 338 yards in the last four meetings
while with the Panthers.

“Steve Smith, we know him very well. He’s having a Pro Bowl year,” said
Falcons coach Mike Smith. “Some people said that he was on the back end of his
career, he’s playing very well. Joe Flacco has done very good in (offensive
coordinator) Gary Kubiak’s new offense. It’s a little bit different than what
they had been running in the past.”

Baltimore’s 27th-ranked pass defense will look to build off its five-sack
performance last week. The Ravens went into the game with just five sacks on
the season.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs has 1 1/2 sacks on the year, while Elvis Dumervil has
five. Suggs has three sacks in two career games versus the Falcons.

“We want to get sacks. Sacks matter. It’s lost yards. The guys work hard, and
sacks are the measuring stick. So sure, that’s very valuable,” said Harbaugh.

Atlanta, which ranks 29th in scoring defense and 31st in total defense, has
not had the same luck, logging only seven sacks on the year. Three of those
came versus Chicago and only defensive end Devin Massaquoi, who has two, has
notched multiple sacks on the season.

“We have to do a better job of rushing the quarterback,” said Atlanta’s Mike
Smith. “I thought that we moved (Bears quarterback Jay Cutler) some. When he
moved we weren’t good with our rush lanes, so the quarterback was able to
extend some plays. We had busted coverage. You don’t give up the explosive
plays that we have given up without having the mental errors.”

The Falcons coach has his own explosive option to use in running back Antone
Smith, who has a team-high five touchdowns on the season and is averaging 51
yards per scoring play and 56.3 yards per touchdown reception this season.

The running back hasn’t gotten a ton of touches, but has made the most of them
while starter Steven Jackson moves the ball at an average of 3.8 yards per
carry. Smith is averaging 9.7 yards on 13 carries and an even 22 yards on 10

“I have not seen a guy have the average per touch like this guy’s had. We’ll
continue to try and get him the ball,” said coach Mike Smith. “Again, we’ve
got talented players at the running back position. We’re very deep there, but
we need to continue to increase his workload, in terms of game plan for him.
You’ve got to be careful about what he’s skill-set is, and make sure you play
to it and put him in the best position.”

In part because of Antone Smith, Ryan leads the NFL with six touchdown passes
of 20-plus yards, while wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White have also played
a part in that. Jones ranks second in the league with 44 receptions and is
third with 620 receiving yards.

Ryan, meanwhile, is second in the NFL with 1,850 passing yards while throwing
12 touchdown passes but with seven interceptions.

“One of the best things that he does is he’s an accurate passer,” Harbaugh
said of Ryan. “He’s a big, tall guy; he’s strong. He can make most of the
throws at any time. But the thing about Matt is he runs things really well.”


Atlanta was supposed to get its self on track last weekend at home and that
didn’t happen, so how will the club handle a tough road game in Baltimore?

The Falcons will try to use speed to find space against a Ravens defense that
is middle-of-the-road with 361.2 yards allowed per game.

“They have big, fast receivers; they have fast running backs,” said Harbaugh
of Atlanta. “They have one big, fast running back (and) another two smaller
fast running backs; and they have a quarterback that drives the whole thing.
That’s an explosive football team, and we better be ready for it.”

However, it is Atlanta that needs to be prepared as its struggling defense
will need to knock Flacco out of rhythm to prevent another monster game like
last weekend. So far, the Falcons have not been up to such a task.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 27, Falcons 14