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Patriots Keys to Victory: Week 6 vs. Ravens

The Patriots defense let Ray Rice run wild in last year's Wildcard Playoff game. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

There was a plethora of news coming out of Foxboro during the Patriots’ (3-1) bye week—beginning with the trading of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings, and ending with the re-acquisition of Deion Branch from the Seattle Seahawks.

There are certainly a lot of question marks for the Pats heading into their Week 6 show down with the Baltimore Ravens (4-1).  A victory over Baltimore, the hottest team in the AFC, will go a long way toward justifying the recent personnel moves made by coach Belichick.

A win might also help the Patriots forget the 33-14 beat down Baltimore laid on them in the playoffs last January.

The Ravens, meanwhile, extended their three-game winning streak in Week 5 with a convincing 31-17 victory over the Denver Broncos.  Many around the league believe the Ravens are the NFL’s best team. With quality wins over the Jets, Steelers, and Broncos, you could certainly make a case for the AFC North juggernaut.

If the Patriots want to avoid another home-loss to the Ravens, they’ll have to prove they can continue to stretch the field without Moss, and find a way to slow down running back Ray Rice.

Stretching the defense without Randy Moss.

Let’s be honest. The Patriots will not be able to replace Randy Moss—but they have to try. That means going back to using three, four, even five wide receiver sets, in addition to the multiple-tight end sets they’ve used so often this season. Brandon Tate, Deion Branch, and tight end Aaron Hernandez will have to pick up the slack in Moss’ absence.

If the Ravens don’t respect the Patriots’ ability to stretch the field, they’ll continually put eight men in the box, and smother the underneath passes to Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.

During his weekly visit with WEEI this past week, Brady said he would “love to have an offense that controls the tempo of the game and controls the clock by running it.”

It sounds nice in theory, but few backs have had success running on the Ravens’ defense over the past decade— don’t expect Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to change that.

Look for more of the same from the Patriots offense, even without their All-Pro deep threat. They have to try to spread the Ravens’ defense out, and use draws, underneath routes, and screen passes to keep them honest.

Stopping Ray Rice.

The Patriots defense must be weary of Ravens’ running back Ray Rice. Rice ran for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s Wild Card playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The run set the tone for Baltimore early, as Rice finished with 159 yards on 22 carries and a pair of touchdowns.

The Ravens’ feature back has been plagued by a nagging knee bruise he sustained early this season, but he’s coming off a 133-yard, two touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos.

“When we needed to run the ball, we ran it,” Rice said after the win. “There was no second-guessing what we were going to do.”

It appears Rice is himself again, and you don’t need to tell Brandon Meriweather, Jerod Mayo, or Vince Wilfork, leaders of a Patriots’ defense that shut down Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown in Miami two weeks ago. The front-seven will need a repeat-performance this Sunday against another prolific rushing attack.

Quarterback Joe Flacco played awful in victory in last year’s playoff game, in which he completed 4/10 passes for 34 yards and tossed an interception. Flacco’s shaky play against top-level defenses should give the Pats’ defense even more incentive to shut down Ray Rice, and put the game on the young quarterback’s shoulders.

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