One of the surprises of the NFL season was the emergence of Ravens running back Justin Forsett. Forsett, who had bounced around several teams before landing in Baltimore, saw his chance early in the season in the aftermath of the Ray Rice domestic violence situation. Forsett seized the moment, running for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns. He also averaged 5.4 yards per carry, which was good for one of the best marks in the league. His mix of power and speed as well as vision makes him difficult for the Patriots to defend. The Ravens offensive line has also done a good job opening holes for him and they show no signs of slowing down.
Most games are won and lost in the trenches and this week’s game will put the play of the Patriots’ defensive line into even greater focus than normal. If the Patriots allow Forsett to run as he has throughout the season they will have a tough time getting off the field, and it will open things up for the Ravens passing attack. There are two players above the rest that will need to play well for the Patriots to slow Forsett down: Vince Wilfork and Sealver Siliga.
Wilfork has been the anchor of the Patriots defense for a decade and the Patriots will need all of his 6’2” 325 pound frame to clog the middle of the line. Siliga is also 6’2” and hovering around 325 pounds next to Wilfork. Siliga missed eight games while on the Injured Reserve/Return list but has been healthy for the last four games. In the nine games that Siliga missed, the Patriots gave up an average of 122 rushing yards per game. That number nose-dived to 87 yards per game in the month of December once Siliga returned to action. Siliga and Wilfork together will need to push the middle of Baltimore’s offensive line back and come up with tackles for losses or force the Ravens to bounce runs outside. This will also mean Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers, Chandler Jones, and Dont’a Hightower will need to be stout outside and in the second level.
The Patriots cannot miss tackles and allow Forsett to gain yards after contact. Forsett has to be met at the line of scrimmage and forced to move around before hitting the hole. If the Patriots can accomplish this, it will go a long way towards limiting his effectiveness. Alan Branch could also factor into stopping Forsett as well as being a key rusher up the middle. Wilfork and Siliga will not be able to play every snap so Branch will have to perform when he is called upon. Forcing the Ravens to be a one-dimensional passing team will allow the Patriots vaunted secondary to shine. This is the first postseason in nearly a decade that the Patriots will have a distinct advantage in the secondary against nearly any team they will play. However, if they do not stop Forsett, that advantage will not be as useful.