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6 things to watch, including Tyler Huntley, big plays and run defense – Boston Herald

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The Ravens don’t have to win Saturday to possibly clinch a playoff berth. They could tie the Atlanta Falcons and get in with some help. They could even lose at M&T Bank Stadium and get in with a lot of help.

But after a dispiriting loss Saturday to the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens (9-5) aren’t looking for handouts.

“We’ve just got to win this game and worry about this game,” tight end Mark Andrews said Tuesday. “I don’t worry about anything else. If you take care of what you’ve got to take care of — win the game — everything else will fall into place.”

The Ravens will have to do it without some key pieces. (5-9). Atlanta has its own problems, of course, including a leaky defense and an inexperienced rookie quarterback. Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 16 matchup.

Offense

1. With Jackson (knee) ruled out and Duvernay (foot) on injured reserve, the Ravens’ best hopes for big plays Saturday might lie with their runningQuarterback Lamar Jackson, wide receiver Devin Duvernay, defensive lineman Calais Campbell and cornerback Marcus Peters are all unavailable for Saturday’s game against the Falcons game. Since running back J.K. Dobbins’ Week 14 return, the Ravens are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the most runs of 15-plus yards (six) in the NFL, according to TruMedia. In that same two-week span, the Ravens are also tied for 28th in completions of 15-plus yards (five).

“It’s a week-to-week thing,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Wednesday. “Three weeks ago, the thing was, ‘What’s wrong with the running game?’ I really think the running game has been very productive the past couple weeks. We want to continue to build on that, and then we want to become more balanced in our offense as well and continue to work on the passing game.”

The Falcons’ run defense is vulnerable. Atlanta is 26th in efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, and has the NFL’s lowest success rate against runs in “12″ personnel (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers), one of the Ravens’ most common groupings.

Still, the Falcons have largely denied chunk plays on the ground. Atlanta has given up just 14 carries of at least 15 yards this season (tied for sixth best in the NFL) and just two of at least 30 yards (tied for third best).

2. Ravens wide receivers and tight ends could have a lot of time to get open Saturday.

Under Dean Pees, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who was cleared to coach in Baltimore after colliding with a player before Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons’ pass rush has rarely forced the issue this season. Entering Week 16, Atlanta ranks 30th in pressure rate and 27th in blitz rate, according to TruMedia, sending five or more pass rushers on just 17.5% of opponents’ drop-backs.

That approach could be good news for Huntley. He’s been pressured on 32 drop-backs this season and gone 11-for-18 while taking six sacks. He’s also scrambled eight times for 41 yards when pressured, none for a first down.

Pees’ conservative approach could also be bad news for Huntley, who’s struggled on long-developing passing plays throughout his career, both as a scrambler and as a pocket passer. When he’s had at least three seconds to pass, he’s 23-for-54 for 259 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. He’s also taken 18 sacks on those 108 drop-backs, a 16.7% sack rate.

Huntley acknowledged Thursday that the offense has to “go get us some touchdowns. That’s all that matters. It’s literally the game of inches, so between a fourth down and a touchdown down there, it’s just that big.”

Defense

3. Before the snap, the Falcons can look a lot like the Ravens. They operate almost exclusively out of pistol and shotgun formations. They rarely use three-wide-receiver sets. They deploy two tight ends on over a third of their plays, and two backs on just under a third.

But while the Ravens’ elite ground game is powered mostly by gap (power) schemes, Atlanta’s relies heavily on zone schemes — outside zone, in particular. The concept calls on offensive linemen to move in unison toward one side of the field, responsible for blocking zones on the field, rather than specific defenders. From there, the running back can either “bend” back to the weak side of the play, “bang” into an open rushing lane or “bounce” the run outside the tackle.

Falcons rookie running back Tyler Allgeier, who leads the team in rushing yards (743), has more yards on outside-zone plays (257) this season than on any other type, according to Sports Info Solutions. On stretch runs, which rely on a similar blocking scheme, he has 230 yards. Altogether, the Falcons are averaging 5.5 yards per carry on outside-zone and stretch runs this season, led up front by Pro Bowl right guard Chris Lindstrom.

Even without Campbell (knee), the Ravens could be their toughest test yet. They’ve allowed just 3.4 yards per carry on outside-zone and stretch runs this season, according to SIS. Cleveland Browns star Nick Chubb had 10 such carries for 47 yards Saturday, but the Ravens have held every other opposing running back under 40 yards on the concept this season.

“We have the guys for the job,” defensive lineman Justin Madubuike said Tuesday. “I feel like everybody on our defensive line, I believe in them, they believe in me, and we believe in each other. So all we’ve got to do is just execute and just do our job — just do our one-11th — and we’ll put ourselves in position to win.”

4. Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder didn’t complete a pass thrown more than 11 yards downfield in his NFL debut Sunday. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t looking long.

The third-round pick from Cincinnati attempted five passes of at least 15 air yards, and two of at least 25 air yards, against the Saints, according to SIS. Just two of the five were catchable, and only one was on target. Ridder struggled overall, finishing 13-for-26 for 97 yards, a meager 3.7 yards per attempt.

But with a play-action-heavy playbook, big-play hunting is baked into Atlanta’s offensive DNA. Marcus Mariota, who started the first 13 games at quarterback, leads the NFL in average intended air yards (10.2), according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Mariota just didn’t complete many deep shots. He was 13-for-44 (29.5%) on throws of at least 20 yards downfield, according to SIS, with two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Opponents haven’t gone after the Ravens too often on shot plays this season. But when they have, the Ravens have struggled mightily. With Peters ruled out because of a calf injury, their secondary will probably be tested deep Saturday. That could be good news for Ridder — or good news for the Ravens.

“We’ve just got to do our job and just eliminate those explosive plays, eliminate the deep shot,” safety Marcus Williams said Tuesday. “For us, especially, keep the top on the defense, as safeties and [defensive backs], and we rush the quarterback, get after him, and he throws it up, and we take the ball away.”

Extra points

5. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 5-5 in regular-season games played at or below freezing temperatures, according to TruMedia. Their last test came in 2018, when Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led a fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime in a 27-24 win at Arrowhead Stadium.

6. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser needs a half-sack to become the fourth player to record at least 20 sacks, four interceptions and four forced fumbles since 2017, along with Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith and Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt.

Patrick Queen, meanwhile, needs a half-sack to join fellow inside linebacker Roquan Smith as one of four players with at least 300 tackles and 10 sacks since 2020. New Orleans Saints inside linebacker Demario Davis and Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White, whom Queen played with at LSU, have also hit those marks.

Week 16

Falcons at Ravens

Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 6 1/2

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