The New England Patriots (10-4) come to Baltimore (8-6) and perhaps what is a new rivalry in the NFL has already gotten the fur flying. A week after Baltimore rookie safety Matt Elam had made some comments about Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions being “old,” the Patriots safety Devin McCourty had something to say about the Ravens as he was interviewed by Tom Curran of CSN New England.
“There would be no better feeling that us beating them Sunday and…we eliminate their season right there. For me and for a lot of my teammates there’s be no better feeling. So it’s gonna be key to come out and play well on Sunday.” He also admitted that he hates the Ravens “a little bit,” and that he feels almost the same way about the Ravens as he does the Jets.
If the Patriots do beat the Ravens, the doesn’t necessarily mean the Ravens can’t make the playoffs thanks to a tie breaker with the Miami Dolphins and the fact they get the play the Bengals on the last game of the regular season. There is still a chance the Ravens could win the AFC North, they would just need some help from the Bengals losing.
Enough of that, let’s get down to business and analyze the match up. Everyone knows the Patriots have Tom Brady and that he is one of the best in the game. He is still one of the best in the game despite the fact that almost nobody outside of Maine can tell you who his starting TE and Wideouts are. You might not even know who his running backs are. This isn’t the same offense that featured Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker. Brady’s targets are now Julian Edelman (leader in yards with 914,and receptions 89), Danny Amendola, Kimbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and TE Micheal Hoomanawanui. RB Shane Vareen who is the third down back is also a weapon as a receiver coming out of the backfield as he’s actually third on the team with receptions. They don’t have that one explosive threat through the air, but their scheme and the fact that Brady is one of the best in the game means they can still put up points and rack up yardage. The Patriots offense ranks 6th in points and 8th in yards. The ground game is formidable with Steven Ridley being the primary back, but also powerful runner LeGarrette Blount is the change of pace back. Between the two they have combined for 10TDs (Ridley 7, Blount 3) and over 1,000 yards (Ridley 645, Blount 507) and both average well over 4 yards a carry.
The defense is missing some key elements as well. Big nose tackle Vince Wilfork who is a dominating presence and clogs up the middle about as good as anyone in the game is out. Jerrod Mayo is also out. Tommy Kelly is also out. This has led to a Patriots defense that is ranked 24th in overall yards given up, 31st in rushing yards allowed, and 18th in passing yards allowed. The Patriots are pretty clutch in the redzone as they employ a bend but don’t break style, being ranked as 10th in points allowed. They are dangerous against the pass with the main pressure being supplied (11.5 sacks) by Chandler Jones, who is the brother of Ravens DE Arthur Jones. DE Rob Ninkovich is second on the team with 6 sacks. Aqib Talib is a big, physical corner who might provide a problem for the Ravens speedy wideouts if he can play his press coverage and physical style.
The Baltimore Ravens enter the game with some question marks on player health. Joe Flacco took a big shot to his left knee which is his landing foot for following through on passes. He will be wearing a leg brace to protect what is supposedly a mild MCL sprain. After the hit last Monday, Flacco’s throws were very errant and sailed well over the heads of his receivers. He; along with Ray Rice who is nursing a thigh injury, and Elvis Dumervil who injured his ankle two weeks ago, are all listed as questionable, but will most likely play. It is no secret that the Ravens running game has been lackluster this season. One might say that Rice’s hip injury is to blame for his lack of success, but Pierce hasn’t been able to be as effective this season as well. To me that indicates that the struggles are on the offensive line which has seen the complete deterioration of Bryant McKinnie and the key loss of Kelechi Osemele. Center Gino Gradkowski also seems to be struggling at bit and replacements at LT (Eugne Monroe) and LG (A.Q. Shipley) have been having trouble adjusting. Micheal Oher at the RT spot also doesn’t look quite as dominating as he once was and continues to be a target for the false start penalty. When they are able to provide Flacco enough time in the passing game, Flacco has responded only to have a lot of passes dropped by his secondary tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson. That shouldn’t be as much of a problem now as Dennis Pitta arrived two weeks ago. Is Joe Flacco healthy and can the line protect him? If the answers are yes, than the offense should have a lot of success moving the ball today. If the running game is going to get healthy, this would be a good opportunity to capitalize.
One the defensive side of the ball the Ravens still rank as one of the best defenses in the game as they are ranked 7th in points allowed and 9th in yardage given up. They are stout against the run and tough against the pass, though the secondary with a lot of new moving parts has shown the propensity to give up the big play. That unit has been coming together nicely lately with Matt Elam learning the defense a bit more and with Jimmy Smith finally starting to look more like that first round talent. Webb is one of the best in the game not only at defending the pass, but he is also one of the surest tacklers on the Ravens defense and that speaks volumes. Daryl Smith has been a blessing and one of those Ozzie Newsome brilliant moves as he has been a tremendous replacement for Ray Lewis. The Patriots offense has some shifty route runners and the weather might not be great for game time. It will really come down to how well Webb, Graham, and Smith can stick with these receivers. Tom Brady has put up some of his worst numbers against the Ravens and the Ravens are the only team he has faced in which he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. If Tom Brady turns over the ball, the Ravens have this game.
As always it should be an interesting game between these two budding rivals. Depending upon the health of some players and the field conditions this could be a game in which both teams score 20 points or more. In typical Ravens fashion it will most likely come down to one last minute score to determine the winner. I’m going out on a limb here though and stating that if Joe Flacco is healthy, this will be a surprise blowout by the Ravens.
- Joe Flacco avoid injury against Lions after low hit (sbnation.com)
- What To Watch For: Another Playoff-Like Feel To Patriots-Ravens (boston.cbslocal.com)
- Patriots-Ravens: Many new faces, same old rivalry (miamiherald.com)