There are plenty of big games on tap this weekend in the NFL, including the Ravens’ trip to the Patriots. Here’s one correspondent’s view of Baltimore-New England on Sunday.
Remember, we’ll review all of it on Sunday night at 7 pm ET in the Sunday Night Purple Haze here on WNST.net. Want to be a part of the action? Click here to enter the 10-4-09 Purple Haze
This will be the toughest game of the four the Ravens have played so far. Baltimore has beaten two also-rans (Kansas City, Cleveland) and a team that can put points on the board, but give them up as well (San Diego).
On offense, the Ravens have to control the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. New England is still very dangerous with the ball, and the less time QB Tom Brady has to work with, the better. First down yardage is one key. The Ravens have thrown (54 times) more than they’ve run (48 times) on first down. All first-down pass plays are averaging 10.02 yards, while they are getting 5.02 yards per rush on first.
My guess is that the Patriots will try to stuff the Ravens run game, and make QB Joe Flacco go to the air to beat them. The Ravens have to resist the temptation and try to wear down the Pats’ offensive line until they have the right situations in which New England gets too run-stopping happy and forgets that Flacco can throw the ball in play-action. Given the potential weather (40 percent chance of showers and breezy), New England’s strategy would be a sound against a team not used to playing in those conditions regularly.
It will be up to the Ravens’ offensive line, led by Matt Birk, to open holes for Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain. When Flacco wants to throw, Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington will have to find the soft spots in a Pats defense that will be concentrating on stopping the run first.
Defensively, Baltimore will have to continue its high level of play against a team with a lot of potent weapons. Pressure on Brady is the key. He will be looking for WR Randy Moss and WR Joey Galloway most often, and rookie Julian Edelman has played the safety valve role usually held by Wes Welker. New England will try to run as much as they can against the Ravens’ front seven in the hopes of keeping the pass rushers from blitzing too much. Philip Rivers took advantage for big yards in San Diego in a game the Chargers were hurt both by the loss of RB LaDainian Tomlinson and the play-calling of coach Norv Turner at the end of each half. Brady can’t have the time Rivers had in the second half in San Diego, or it could be a long afternoon for the Ravens secondary. Brady has been sacked only once in the first three games, and Baltimore will need more than one sack to stop the Pats.
The Ravens will also have to slow down RB Fred Taylor, who had 105 yards rushing against a smaller Falcons defensive line a week ago. Baltimore will take its chances that Taylor won’t beat them single-handedly in order to collapse the pocket on Brady and force him out of his comfort zone looking for Moss downfield. In other words, the same gameplan Rex Ryan used as the Jets beat the Pats 16-9 in Week 2.
Last week, New England had the ball for 39:49 on nine possessions against Atlanta racking up 28 first downs, and held a solid Falcons offense to 257 total yards, 58 on the ground, despite Atlanta having one of the NFL’s best backs in Michael Turner.
PREDICTION: This game might turn out to be a lot like the 2007 Monday Night classic the teams put on in Baltimore. The Ravens have proven that they can win a big game on the road against a quality opponent, and take care of business against lower-level squads. Despite the shootout win at San Diego, Baltimore was stretched to its absolute limit to put the game away on a Ray Lewis fourth-down stuff. New England is as tough at home as the Ravens are, and overall the two teams are very evenly matched. I’d give the edge to the Ravens in Baltimore, but in Foxborough, New England holds on barely. Patriots 23, Ravens 20.
To follow me on Twitter, click here