Although the New England Patriots have been installed as a little better than a touchdown favorite against the Baltimore Ravens, by all accounts they do have some concerns against their 11-6 familiar foe.
For starters, if the Ravens stop the run game a few times, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may have Tom Brady put the ball up 50 plus times, and that will spell trouble for the Patriots. McDaniels has been critisized for giving up on the run too early in games, exposing Brady to big hits.
Patriots tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full blocking Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. New England’s “pain point” has been their offensive line. But their biggest pain may come straight up the middle through the “A” gaps, from Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata. Plus Tim Jernigan and Chris Canty have both practiced this week, giving the Ravens a potent rotation up and down it’s defensive line. They can pressure up the middle so Brady can’t step up, which he has to do if he wants to be effective. He runs a “dink and dunk” type of an offensive, and the Ravens have to make him uncomfortable, move him off of his spot, and disrupt his timing.
As far as the Ravens defensive backfield is concerned, you don’t have to have great corners and safeties to beat the Patriots because New England does not have any wide receivers that can go more than 7-10 yards, so the Ravens can keep everything in front of them. They will play man on the outside because the Pats don’t have any wide receivers that need more than man coverage, as non of them can take the proverbial top off of the defense. They will give up the 5 yard out and they will stop the run. The Pats will have to throw the ball down field if they want to win, and Brady has not been able to do that all season. Naturally Bill Belichik will try to establish the run with Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. With the way the front 7 of the Ravens have been playing, they will be able to commit more to the run and stop it. The Patriots will counter by lining up with a double TE with an extra OL opposite All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski. They will run out of the shotgun, and Vereen might see a lot of action because he’s elusive, a good receiver and a good blocker. Blount had a big game against the Ravens last season, but this defense is much improved, and middle linebacker CJ Mosley has been kept “clean” by the d-line, allowing him to make bone jarring tackles.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak knows that covering Tight Ends and backs out of the backfield is where the Pats struggle, and he will exploit that. Look for Owen Daniels to have a big day, and also rookie TE Crockett Gillmore who not only is a tenacious blocker, but also deceptively fast. Their pass rush has also been dismal, and we’ve seen what Joe Flacco can do when given time. That is why it is crucial the the Ravens establish the run early. That can force the Patriots to move their safeties closer to the box, and of course the line of scrimmage.
Torrey Smith is very fast, and can beat Darrelle Revis. Revis is adept at at taking away sideline and comeback routes, but can be beaten of post and fly patterns. Steve Smith Sr. is a very physical wide receiver, and he will more than likely be covered by the 6’4″ 220 pound Brandon Browner. That should make for a very interesting matchup.
The Patriots should win this game, but the Ravens can win this game. The Patriots also believe that the Ravens present their toughest opponent and biggest obstacle on their road to the Super Bowl. Should they get past Baltimore, the think they will beat either Denver or Indianapolis.