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Time: 1:00 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts
Radio: 98.5 FM: The Sports Hub
The New England Patriots are entering Week 4 with a respectable 2-1 record and are gearing up to play one of the most potent offenses in the NFL…wait…the Baltimore Ravens?
No longer just a defensive team, the Ravens have finally added an offense that makes them a serious Super Bowl contender. They have maturity on both sides of the ball and are 11-1 in their last 12 games, including the preseason. Since becoming the Ravens (remember they were once the original Cleveland Browns), the franchise is winless against the Patriots and has scored a combined six points at games in New England. To quote the Ravens, they hope this happens “Never More.”
They are one of the most feared defenses over the past decade. Led by their former Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis, the Ravens currently hold the seventh ranked defense in the league and are first in stopping the run, as they are allowing only 51 rushing yards a game. Try to beat them through the air and you run into a secondary featuring Ed Reed, who’s an interception specialist. The man to watch is Dawan Landry, who is leading the team in interceptions and has had one in each of the last two games. The linebackers and guys on the line know how to get to the quarterback. Terrell Suggs, Trevor Pryce, and Jarret Johnson all have more then one sack and any member of the defense can come up and hit you in the chops.
However, this is not you father’s Ravens. Second year coach John Harbaugh has acquired the pieces to make for a potent offense. Second year quarterback Joe Flacco is a leading candidate for MVP. Currently, Flacco has thrown for 839 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 101.4. His weapons are just as dangerous. Derrick Mason contemplated retirement before returning to lead the Ravens in receiving with 196 yards. Mason shares time with fellow receivers Kelley Washington and Mark Clayton. Also in the mix is Todd Heap, who is still one of the best tight ends in the league. The passing game of the Ravens is dangerous and can compete with the best in the league.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the ability for the Ravens to run the ball. Ray Rice has been leading the team in rushing yards so far, but has been sharing the ball with the imposing Willis McGahee. McGahee is tops in the league with five touchdowns, including a 34-yard run to the house against Cleveland last week. Fullback Le’Ron McClain has been great at creating holes for Rice and McGahee, and the offensive line has been doing a great job helping their backs and keeping Flacco on his feet. The Ravens are one of the most dangerous teams in the league and will not be an easy matchup at all for New England.
When Fred Taylor ran for 105 yards against the Falcons last week, he did two things: (1) he doubled his total rushing yards form the first two weeks, and (2) established himself as the top running back on the roster. Taylor has 100 yards more than the next running back on the roster, Laurence Maroney, and in his 12th season, has appeared to not lose a step. However, the Ravens defense is best in the league at stopping the run, so it will take more then Taylor to break through. A mix of Maroney, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk will be needed to change tempo in the running game.
However, all the pressure shouldn’t be put on the running backs. The offensive line will need to step up and stop the pressure put on by the Baltimore defense. Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Neal need to all pull out stellar games, and not commit silly penalties, in order to keep the offense on the field. Creating holes and maintaining a solid running game will be key for a Patriots win.
Randy Moss has been unstoppable as of late. He has a league best 26 receptions and is fifth with 281 receiving yards. However, he is ranked at the bottom with zero touchdowns. With Brady returning, everything was expected to go back to normal, including adding to the Brady-Moss record 23 touchdowns from 2007. Instead, all scoring has come from the tight end combination of Benjamin and Chris Baker. More needs to be done.
Hopefully Wes Welker returns to the lineup on Sunday. With 100 plus receptions in each of the last two season, and 12 receptions in Week 1, his return to the lineup could mean the ball being spread around from Brady. Julien Edelman did a respectable job pretending to be Welker and can now move into the fourth receiver spot, where there won’t be as much pressure on him to make the big play.
In the third spot is Joey Galloway, who has seemed lost with the Patriots. With the return of Welker, Galloway can find himself being covered by the third, or fourth best defensive back of the Ravens and could play the role he was meant to play, the deep threat. In single coverage, Galloway might finally be able to be a playmaker for the team and be another target for Tom Brady.
Most of the time, you would expect a team to stop the running game and make the quarterback beat you. However, Flacco has proven that he can pick apart a defense. The Ravens have not yet played against a top 10 defense, or a team that can get to the quarterback. New England has six sacks from six different players, but more importantly, has been getting pressure and rushing passers to make some bad decisions. If they are able to flush Flacco out of the pocket, they need to capitalize on any bad decisions. Also, with Vince Wilfork scratched from the lineup, the rest of the D-line needs to step up and handle the responsibilities.
The Patriots secondary has been doing a decent job at making tackles and batting down passes, but have yet to record an interception. The two Brandon’s, Meriweather and McGowan, are atop the list for tackles. 12 of the 13 tackles form McGowan are solo’s. Tackles are one thing, but interceptions can change a game (ask Raven’s Ed Reed). Should the defense get pressure on Flacco and get him into a bad spot, veterans like Shawn Springs will need to step up. Springs has 32 interceptions in his career and could be a difference maker if he plays to his potential.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows the importance of Special Teams. Last week, the Ravens had a starting field position from their 48-yard line. They went on to crush the Browns 34-3 with McGahee and Rice combining for three rushing touchdowns. Field position can be the difference between touchdowns and field goals. Also, controlling Baltimore’s returner Chris Carr, who has been averaging nearly 10 yards per punt return and 25 yards per kickoff return, is a must. Hitting him hard and keeping the Ravens deep in their own territory could go a long way, literally.
The Patriots are no stranger to the importance of Special Teams. With some hard hits, the Patriots special teams unit recovered a crucial fumble in Week 1 against Buffalo to steal the game. Also, look to Stephen Gostkowski, whose nine field goals are a league best. In a game where the offense and defense are the top bill, the Special Teams could be the difference in the outcome.
Sure, he is third in the league with 871 passing yards, however, Tom Brady isn’t playing like himself this season. He is inconsistent and seems timid when making the deep passes. His passer rating of 79.9 is one of the worst in the league. He only has three touchdowns, one more than his number of interceptions (2). His longest pass of the season was a 36-yard touchdown pass to Chris Baker last week. Realistically, we knew he wouldn’t be the same quarterback he was in 2007, but most figured he wouldn’t be a completely different QB.
The Ravens know how to stop the run, so the game will fall into the hands of the Pats fearless leader in Brady. He needs to complete the short passes, hopefully to Welker, but also the deep ones. The Ravens secondary likes to go for the interception and, in doing so, give up big plays if it backfires. Brady needs to take advantage of their eagerness and throw a ball only his receivers can catch up to. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but needs to be close to it if the Patriots want to keep a perfect record against Baltimore.
The last time these two teams met was a Week 13 meeting in 2007, right towards the end of the Patriots perfect regular season. The Patriots squeaked out with a 27-24 victory and came from behind when Tom Brady connected with Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds remaining. The difference between then and now? The Ravens have a potent offense that can match New England’s. If the Patriots can’t get anything with the running game, or control Joe Flacco, it will be a long day at Foxboro. Prediction: Baltimore 24, New England 17.
Tags: Baltimore Ravens, Banjamin Watson, Brandon Meriwether, Chris Baker, Dan Koppen, Derrick Mason, Ed Reed, Fred Taylor, Jarret Johnson, Joey Galloway, John Harbaugh, Julien Edelman, Kelly Washington, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Le'Ron McClain, Logan Mankins, Mark Clayton, Matt Light, Nick Kazur, Patriots, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Sammy Morris, Stephen Neal, Terrell Suggs, Todd Heap, Tom Brady, Trevor Pryce, Vince Wilform, Wes Welker, Willis McGahee