Tag Archive | "Tom Brady"

Terrell Suggs zeroes in on Tom Brady

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Concerns Patriots have about the Ravens

Posted on 07 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Terrell Suggs zeroes in on Tom Brady

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.

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Ravens pass rush in race against quick-release Brady on Saturday

Posted on 05 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have come to expect strong play from quarterback Joe Flacco in the postseason like they witnessed in the wild-card win in Pittsburgh, but the biggest key in beating the New England Patriots on Saturday may lie on the opposite side of the ball.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady presents a great challenge to the NFL’s 24th-ranked pass defense, but Baltimore possesses the single-best weapon you can have to potentially slow the league’s No. 9 passing attack.

A dominating pass rush.

How significant has it been to Baltimore’s success during the 2014 season? The Ravens have collected four or more sacks in each of their last eight wins, including the 30-17 victory over the Steelers in which they sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times. Over that same time, they are 0-4 when failing to reach the four-sack plateau.

A quick look at the numbers suggests pass protection isn’t a concern for the Patriots as Brady was sacked only 21 times in the regular season — backup Jimmy Garoppolo was also dropped five times — but that is more a reflection of the 37-year-old getting the ball out more quickly that just about any quarterback in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, Brady’s average time of 2.39 seconds before throwing, being sacked, or scrambling is the third quickest in the league behind only Denver’s Peyton Manning and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.

The Patriots received the fourth-worst pass-blocking grade in the league from PFF, suggesting Baltimore shouldn’t be overly concerned with New England’s offensive line. Only right tackle Sebastian Vollmer received a positive cumulative grade in pass blocking among the Patriots’ starters during the regular season.

New England is particularly vulnerable inside with starting guards — Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell — who are much stronger as run blockers than in pass protection. This could spell trouble with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and situational rusher Pernell McPhee primed to bring inside heat while Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil come off the edges.

But how do you reach Brady when he’s so adept at getting rid of the ball quickly?

The Ravens have made no secret about their attempts to jump the opposition’s snap count to get to the quarterback this season. This leads to some pre-snap penalties, which head coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees don’t condone but acknowledge as an occasional “cost of doing business.” They view them in a similar manner to how many great power hitters in baseball are also prone to striking out.

Of course, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady will be aware of Baltimore’s aggression up front, making you believe they’ll throw some hard counts and cadence variations into the mix Saturday to keep the pass rush at bay.

Baltimore could also mix in some press coverage from defensive backs to temporarily hold up receivers in hopes that the rush gets to Brady after an extra split-second or two of holding the ball. In doing so, the Ravens do run the risk of giving up a big play if the pressure doesn’t get there, but they made it clear against the Steelers that they weren’t afraid to be aggressive on either side of the ball.

The Ravens’ biggest problem will be All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose 6-foot-6, 265-pound frame doesn’t make it feasible to jam him at the line of scrimmage. Will Hill did a commendable job against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham during the regular season, and you’d expect the safety to receive a bulk of the coverage duties against Gronkowski on Saturday.

The defense showed once again that it can make up for an injury-plagued secondary by consistently pressuring the Steelers in the wild-card round, and the Ravens will need to do it again Saturday to be in position to continue their playoff run.

 

 

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Please join me this weekend in New England for Ravens playoff fun

Posted on 04 January 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

In what has become an almost-annual pilgrimage to visit our dreaded neighbors to the north, WNST once again presents an  opportunity to head to New England to watch the Ravens do playoff battle with the dreaded Patriots for a 4:30 p.m. game this Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.

REGRETTABLY, OUR BOSTON OVER NIGHT TRIP IS SOLD OUT!!!!!

Our WNST Jerry’s Collision Center Purple Playoff Roadtrips to Foxborough up-and-back trip directly to the game (no hotel stay) that will depart from White Marsh at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and leave approximately 90 minutes after the final whistle in New England.

The trip is expected to return to White Marsh at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN “BUS ONLY” TRANSPORTATION OPTION BECAUSE YOU ALREADY HAVE A TICKET TO THE GAME, please see bottom of thread to purchase that option. We’re happy to help all Baltimore Ravens fans get to the big game in Foxborough.

ONE DAY UP-AND-BACK TO FOXBOROUGH TRIP INCLUDES:

Roundtrip Gunther Motorcoach transportation

One upper deck game ticket at Gillette Stadium (all groups will be kept together!)

Snack and sandwiches from Royal Farms for the ride to be washed down with a limited supply of beer, soda and water en route to Foxborough

Plenty of DVDs, purple films and trivia for the ride to and from Foxborough

Free copies of Purple Reign 1 and 2

TRIP COST: $350 per person

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

Mobile #:

 

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE TICKETS TO THE GAME AND JUST NEED A RIDE:

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

TRIP COST: $175 per person

 

 

 

 

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Join us: WNST offering two ways to travel to New England for Ravens playoff

Posted on 03 January 2015 by WNST Trips

In what has become an almost-annual pilgrimage to visit our dreaded neighbors to the north, WNST once again presents an  opportunity to head to New England to watch the Ravens do playoff battle with the dreaded Patriots for a 4:30 p.m. game this Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015.

REGRETTABLY, OUR BOSTON OVER NIGHT TRIP IS SOLD OUT!!!!!

Our WNST Jerry’s Collision Center Purple Playoff Roadtrips to Foxborough up-and-back trip directly to the game (no hotel stay) that will depart from White Marsh at 6 a.m. on Saturday morning and leave approximately 90 minutes after the final whistle in New England.

The trip is expected to return to White Marsh at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN “BUS ONLY” TRANSPORTATION OPTION BECAUSE YOU ALREADY HAVE A TICKET TO THE GAME, please see bottom of thread to purchase that option. We’re happy to help all Baltimore Ravens fans get to the big game in Foxborough.

ONE DAY UP-AND-BACK TO FOXBOROUGH TRIP INCLUDES:

Roundtrip Gunther Motorcoach transportation

One upper deck game ticket at Gillette Stadium (all groups will be kept together!)

Snack and sandwiches from Royal Farms for the ride to be washed down with a limited supply of beer, soda and water en route to Foxborough

Plenty of DVDs, purple films and trivia for the ride to and from Foxborough

Free copies of Purple Reign 1 and 2

TRIP COST: $350 per person

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

Mobile #:

 

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE TICKETS TO THE GAME AND JUST NEED A RIDE:

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

TRIP COST: $175 per person

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Patriots

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Joe Flacco pass intended for Dennis Pitta incomplete on 4th & 10 (4th quarter)

The “ender”.

4. Jimmy Smith called for 34 yard pass interference after Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman incomplete (1st quarter)

Got everything started. 

3. Logan Ryan breaks up Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones on 4th & 3 (3rd quarter)

Questionable decision, more questionable execution.

2. Logan Ryan intercepts Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones after Dont’a Hightower tip (1st quarter)

Didn’t take long to make it 14-0. 

1. Ray Rice runs for no gain on 4th & 1 (3rd quarter)

There was no (realistic) coming back from this. 

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Justin Tucker as Ravens MVP? Sure…after all, who else could it be?

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

Not that it matters, because it’s nothing more than a side-note in a player’s media guide biography, but Justin Tucker won the Ravens MVP award on Monday afternoon.

That shouldn’t be too startling if you’ve followed the Ravens through the first fifteen weeks of the 2013 season.  After all, Tucker has actually been the only “regular” on the team who has played above the bar of excellence typically reserved for players who earn MVP status.

Oddly enough, voting for Tucker for team MVP (as I did, admittedly, when the media ballots were distributed last week) was just as much a vote of deduction than anything else.

The other candidates were the three Smith’s — Jimmy, Daryl and Torrey, plus quarterback Joe Flacco.

None of those five came close to duplicating the overall excellence of Justin Tucker this season.

Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s absurd for the team’s kicker to be the Most Valuable Player of the team, I’ll agree with you on that point.

Yes, I voted for Tucker.  I told you that already.

But, voting for the guy and also acknowledging it’s weird to have the kicker be the team’s MVP are entirely possible when you look at what transpired this season.

In short:  The Ravens offense stunk in 2013.

That eliminates Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith from the discussion.

And, while the defensive Smith’s were solid, neither of them came close to establishing the overall consistency of Tucker.

I don’t know that Jimmy Smith or Daryl Smith won any games for John Harbaugh’s team.

Justin Tucker did.

And, when you’re 8-7 and still have a puncher’s chance of making the post-season, the kicker who made the difference in four of those victories deserves the nod as the team MVP.

Sad?

Sure.

The kicker sure as hell isn’t the MVP in Denver, Kansas City, Seattle, Carolina or Cincinnati.

Flacco is the lightning bolt topic when it comes to the Tucker verdict in Baltimore, because he’s the $60 million man and much was expected from him after holding up both the Lombardi and MVP trophy at last February’s Super Bowl in New Orleans.

The real truth about his 2013 campaign?  It’s been average, at best.  Some would say he’s been less than average; some would counter and say with what he’s had to work with, Flacco has been better than average.

Mix all the opinions together, look at the team’s record and Flacco’s numbers and you get:  Average.

Now, were there issues outside of Flacco’s area of responsibility?

Lack of pass blockers to protect him?  You bet.

No running game to help support his arm?  Absolutely.

Wide receiving group still short a quality contributor – or two?  Yes, indeed.

Injury to Pitta a tough pill to swallow?  Of course.

But, 19 interceptions don’t lie.

It’s one thing if Flacco doesn’t produce a 30 TD, 4,000 yard season given the limits I listed above, combined with the anticipated “Super Bowl hangover” that nearly every veteran has likely experienced to some degree in 2013.

But, he hasn’t even reached 20 TD’s yet.  And he’ll need 280 yards passing at Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon to eclipse the 4,000 yard mark for the first time ever.

Not only has he thrown the ball to the other team nineteen times, and, yes, not all 19 of those are completely “on” Flacco, — a handful of the pics were deflections or balls that should have been caught by his receivers — but he’s also fumbled it eight times, with two of those recovered by the opposition.

(Please see next page)

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

This time, there was no late-game heroics to save the Ravens.

No half-a-world-away kick from Justin Tucker.

No final minute punt return from Jacoby Jones.

No last gasp drive from Joe Flacco and the offense.

This time, it was just football for sixty minutes.

And, the Ravens got their rear ends handed to them by Tom Brady and the Patriots.  There’s no other way to slice it.  No fancy way to sugarcoat it.  Not on Sunday.  It was 41-7 in favor of the Patriots and the beating was as bad as the score would indicate, even if two of the New England TD’s were scored in garbage time.

It was a day to forget for Joe Flacco and the offense.  Going up against a beleaguered and injured New England defense, the Baltimore offense simply laid a colossal Christmas egg, coughing up the ball on four different occasions and failing to pick up a first down on two separate 4th and short situations in the second half.

On the first occasion, the Ravens were faced with a 4th and 2 at the New England 39.  They had already run the ball twice in the series — once for five yards and the other for three yards, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell eschewed the reasonable solution of running off the edge and instead asked Flacco to connect with Jacoby Jones on a short pass.  It failed.

Later on, at the New England four yard line, the Ravens had two chances to pick up one yard.  On 3rd and 1, Caldwell again called for a pass play, which was incomplete.  Facing a 20-0 deficit, the Ravens rightfully went for it on 4th down.  Flacco initially lined up in the shotgun with Rice to his right.  Just prior to the snap, the QB scooted under center and gave Rice the ball off tackle, where he was stopped for no gain.  Was that the play design coming out of a Baltimore time-out where the Ravens discussed a critical play-call?  If so, it looked sloppy at best, ill-executed at worst.

Those two 4th down failures didn’t cost the Ravens the game, but you can’t win football games in the NFL when you can’t pick up two yards and one yard with your season perhaps on the line.

Later, the Ravens made the wrong call on a field goal decision that all but sewed up the game for the visitors.  Trailing 20-0 and faced with a 4th and 5 at the Patriots’ 19 yard line early in the 4th quarter, John Harbaugh elected to send Justin Tucker on the field for a 36 yard field goal.  That Tucker would miss the field goal was almost poetic justice, for even if he would have connected, the Ravens still trailed by three scores at 20-3.  He missed it.

Sure, Tucker should make a 36-yarder every time, but the call there should have been to go for it on 4th down to try and get a TD on that series and make it a two score game.

If the game wasn’t over prior to Tucker attempting the field goal, it was over when he failed to connect.

The Baltimore offense has now scored one touchdown in its last eight quarters of action.  Six field goals last Monday night in Detroit and one “we don’t care if you score” TD allowed by New England on Sunday.  In fairness, one of those days where the ineptness of the offense finally catches up to the Ravens was bound to happen.  Other Sunday’s, Flacco and Company would figure out a way to put up a TD or two and add a few Justin Tucker field goals to win 23-20.

This was the Sunday where the football gods finally said, “You boys are gonna have to play some legit football on offense today.”

And, the Ravens didn’t answer the bell.

The Baltimore defense got picked apart early by Tom Brady, who used Julian Edelman like a fiddler with his bow.  When the Patriots took advantage of a pass interference call on Jimmy Smith in the end zone and a Flacco interception to go up 14-0, all they had to do from there was play smart, use the clock and not turn the ball over.  What quarterback in the world is better than doing those things than New England’s #12?

Brady expertly used the middle of the field as the Ravens’ secondary played a soft cover-2 that put little emphasis on physicality.

One week ago in Detroit, the Ravens defensive backs went toe-to-toe with Calvin Johnson from the first whistle and physically challenged him.

Against New England, there was very little of that press coverage scheme from Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham, although it’s fair to note Lardarius Webb was tight on his man most of the day.

The Baltimore defense put little pressure on the quarterback all afternoon.  Strong?  Yes.  Big in size?  Yes.  But the Ravens lack pace and speed in their defensive front seven and when they face a quick-release quarterback like the one in New England, there’s not much damage being done.

When Brady gets time to do his thing, it can get ugly.  Like it did on Sunday.

On the flip side, the Ravens offense was unable to solve the mystery of the New England defense that somehow constructed a method to beat Baltimore on the inside and give Flacco something to think about most of the day.  Horrible against the run, the Patriots weren’t challenged that much by Caldwell, who went to the air 42 times.  It was a weird combination, it seemed.  New England WANTED the Ravens to throw it and the Baltimore coaching staff did just that.

It all added up to the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era.  With their playoff lives on the line, the Ravens turned in a stinker for the ages, at home no less, and made next Sunday’s game in Cincinnati a must-win affair.

Everyone’s shorts smelled on Sunday.

The coaches had a long day.

The offense had a longer day.

And the defense, which played respectably overall, got a lesson in how Tom Brady operates when the calls and the balls are both working in his favor.  He’s tough to beat.

Hell, Justin Tucker missed a 36 yard field goal.

You know you’re not winning if that happens.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The Ravens renew what’s become one of the best rivalries in the NFL in recent years Sunday when the New England Patriots pay a visit with playoff implications for both sides.

A rematch of the last two AFC Championship games is compelling enough, but the Ravens enter Sunday with a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth straight year with a win and losses by Miami and San Diego. New England will clinch its fifth consecutive AFC East division title with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

These teams have dealt with their fair share of changes since the last time they met in Foxborough last January, but they find themselves in a familiar position with new faces emerging to replace the big names of past years. Counting the postseason, Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Patriots have met in the John Harbaugh era — it’s been a 3-3 split — with few teams having as much success against New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as Baltimore.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to clinch another winning season under Harbaugh and set up an AFC North championship game against Cincinnati in Week 17. Baltimore is just 1-6 in the all-time regular-season series against New England, but the Ravens hold a 2-1 edge over the Patriots in the postseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to continue their four-game winning streak and keep themselves in position for January football …

1. Joe Flacco’s knee injury will affect his mobility, contributing to him being sacked four times for the first time since late November. One of the major factors for Flacco’s improved play down the stretch has been his ability to move around in the pocket and occasionally take off to gain yards on the ground, but the mild MCL sprain of his left knee figures to impact that to some extent. Trying to assess Flacco’s mobility during practices this week was impossible as quarterbacks only played catch from a stationary position during the open portion of practices, but he was still dealing with some swelling late in the week. The Baltimore offensive line has only allowed five sacks over the last three games, but Flacco will be more likely to stay in the pocket this week, leading to a few more sacks with defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich coming off the edges.

2. New England cornerback Aqib Talib will match up with Dennis Pitta, but the Ravens tight end will catch a touchdown. The Patriots have used the 6-foot-1 Talib against talented tight ends such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Miami’s Charles Clay, so don’t be surprised to see him covering Pitta from the slot position while New England tries to use Cover 2 to contain the deep-ball threats of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside. Talib is listed as probable on the final injury report, but he’s been dealing with a nagging hip issue, which might explain why defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick moved him inside last week in Miami. Talib will prevent Pitta from having a huge day, but Flacco will still find his favorite target inside the red zone for a touchdown after the tight end wasn’t targeted once in three red-zone trips last week in Detroit.

3. Brady will find rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a touchdown to help the Patriots’ recent red-zone woes. New England ranks 16th in the league in red-zone offense, and the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski has only made that area of the field more problematic for the future Hall of Fame quarterback as he lacks a big target to throw to. The Patriots were only 1-for-4 inside the 20 in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, but the return of the 6-foot-3 Dobson will help complement smaller receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Ravens must also keep tabs on Shane Vereen and his receiving abilities out of the backfield, but the league’s fourth-ranked red-zone defense will make the Patriots scratch and claw all day. Even with their personnel losses, the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in points scored and Brady will connect with Dobson for a touchdown.

4. Backup running back Bernard Pierce will earn a season high for rushing yards with Ray Rice less than 100 percent. Rice and the Ravens have downplayed the mild quadriceps strain he suffered in the Week 15 win over the Lions, but it’s difficult not to be concerned considering how tough this season has been for the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Pierce has experienced his own struggles — averaging only 2.8 yards per carry — behind an offensive line that’s underperformed. If the Patriots do match up Talib with Pitta and rely on two high safeties against the vertical threat, the Ravens will receive better looks in the box against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense that’s surrendered 132.5 yards per game. It’s difficult to trust the Ravens to run the ball effectively against anyone at this point, but Pierce will eclipse his season high of 65 rushing yards set in Week 3.

5. An improved effort inside the 20-yard line will go a long way as the Ravens win a 23-17 final over New England. Baltimore has won four straight games but has only gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over that stretch, leaving a slim margin for error and too much reliance on kicker Justin Tucker. That being said, Flacco has gotten the best of Brady in recent years and the Ravens are feeling more urgency than the Patriots with their playoff positioning. Sunday will be a nail-biter and you can never count out Brady when the stakes are high, but the Ravens will once again rise to the occasion to finish 7-1 at home. The offense will have a respectable effort on the ground and make a few big plays through the air to complement another strong defensive effort as the Ravens set up a massive Week 17 showdown with the Bengals.

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Ravens vs. New England — It’s a “7-Star Lock” game

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

You know how it goes in gambling.

There are games you “like”, games you “feel good about” and games where you say, “it’s a lock!”

I have a slam-dunk thing called the “7-Star Lock” that I only bring out for very special occasions.

I’ve only used the “7-Star Lock” twice this season.

It hit both times.

The first go-round was in Baltimore last month when the Ravens edged the Bengals 20-17 in overtime.  The Friday before, I ended our award-winning segment – “Picks and Comment” – with the stunning revelation that the game in Baltimore two days later was “the lock of all locks”.  Hence, the reason it was a 7-Star Lock.

You just don’t label a game a 7-Star Lock unless you know it’s a done deal.

In fact, the 7-Star Lock is just like a honeybee.  When a honeybee stings you, that’s essentially its final act, as it will perish hours later.

If the 7-Star Lock ever fails, it, too, is dead.  A 7-Star Lock can only be used while owning a perfect record.

Anyway, following the successful application of the 7-SL on the Bengals in Baltimore (“I don’t care what you say, Cincinnati isn’t coming to Baltimore and beating the Ravens this Sunday…”), I took a few weeks off before finding another 7-SL game.

Last Sunday in Miami, I called the Dolphins over New England a 7-Star Lock for the hometown ‘Fins.

You can up that record to 2-0 on 7-SL’s this season.

Oddly enough, New England will once again be involved in a 7-Star Lock game.  It’s this Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.

Baltimore 26 – New England 13

And, yes, you can make that a 7-Star Lock.

New England’s not coming to Baltimore and winning on Sunday.  They don’t have enough offense, even though they have the best QB in the league.  They don’t have a defense that can stop the Ravens long enough to let the referees work their expected late-game magic for Bill Belichick’s team.

They have a very good kicker.

The Ravens have a great one.

New England doesn’t have to win the game.

Baltimore does.

The Ravens don’t lose big home games.  Not under John Harbaugh, anyway.  Not in December.

The last time the Ravens spit the bit in a home game of this kind of magnitude was January 13, 2007 when the ’06 campaign ended abruptly with a 15-6 loss to the Colts in the AFC playoffs.

Ain’t happenin’ this Sunday in Baltimore, trust me.

Ravens in a romp.

Book it.

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s the dirty little secret that can’t be overlooked despite a four-game winning streak that’s put the Ravens in control of their path to a sixth consecutive playoff appearance as they welcome the New England Patriots to Baltimore on Sunday.

While improving on a 4-6 start to move two games above .500 with their Monday win over the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. Finishing drives inside the 20 with a touchdown just 42.9 percent of the time, coach John Harbaugh and his team know they can’t continue to depend on good fortune and 61-yard field goals to overcome the league’s 29th-ranked red-zone offense.

But fixing the problem is easier said than done at this late stage in the season.

“There are things that we’ve come up with that we’ve noticed that we have addressed and will continue to work on,” Harbaugh said. “That’s as much as I would like to share with you at this time.”

Of course, the Ravens coach doesn’t feel like broadcasting the details, but a simple look at the offensive personnel makes it easier to explain. A strong running game is clearly ideal once you push closer to the goal line, but the Ravens’ struggles in that department are nothing new by now.

The Ravens’ passing game largely depends on the speed of receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but the red zone is constricted and depends more on size and precision, two areas in which there have been deficiencies this season. Until the recent return of tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have lacked a big receiving target inside the 20 beyond rookie Marlon Brown, who has made plays but needs to run more precise routes to be a consistent threat.

And while veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley — the latter now on injured reserve — earned reputations as brilliant route-runners earlier in their career, their declining speed neutralized their ability to find windows in coverage near the goal line this season.

Those shortcomings along with some untimely penalties have added up to a small margin for error that quarterback Joe Flacco has often been unable to overcome, forcing the Ravens to depend on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker to convert field goals. In their 18-16 win over the Lions, the Ravens were 0-for-3 on trips inside the 20 and needed a franchise-record six field goals to pull off the victory.

“Just little things, one thing here and one thing there,” Flacco said. “When you don’t take advantage of the one play that you get down there to score a touchdown or if you are giving yourself one play to do it, if you have one little slip up, then you are putting yourselves in a tough situation to really convert and put the ball in the end zone. That is kind of what happened to us the other night. We didn’t take advantage of some of the good opportunities we had and left ourselves in bad situations and then didn’t convert.”

The Ravens hope that Pitta’s return will boost their shoddy red-zone play over the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond, but the play-making tight end wasn’t targeted once in their three red-zone trips against the Lions and finished the game with only two catches for 24 yards.

His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and reputation for running exceptional routes should help considerably on both third down and near the goal line, but Pitta acknowledged that Detroit used some bracketed coverage to neutralize his dangerous abilities.

The book is certainly out by now on his reputation as Flacco’s favorite target on the current roster.

“It just depends on who is open, what coverages they deploy, and how we respond to them,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That could change up. Some guys are going to have big games; some guys are not going to have a great game. We usually have somebody that shows up week after week.”

Of course, Sunday’s game will provide a major test in future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but the Patriots have been dealing with their own offensive struggles with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury and the recent absences of rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Entering Week 16 ranked 16th in the league in red-zone offense, the Patriots were 1-for-4 inside the 20 in their loss to Miami last Sunday — their first game since Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury — as Brady was forced to throw to 5-foot-10 Julian Edelman and 5-foot-11 Danny Amendola inside the 20. The two are talented route-runners and productive receivers, but they are targets unable to go up and get the ball in traffic like the Pro Bowl tight end Gronkowski.

With the 6-foot-3 Dobson back at practice this week, he and talented receiving back Shane Vereen are likely to see opportunities when New England moves inside the red zone, but neither should be considered an easy fix to the Patriots’ offensive problems.

That said, the 10-4 Patriots have found success throughout the year despite Gronkowski missing all but seven games this season. Much like Flacco adjusting to life without Pitta and departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Brady has continued to succeed without the likes of Gronkowski, former slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez this season.

“When they haven’t been full-strength, they have found ways to win football games,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve had a lot of those same situations, and we’re just now starting to capitalize on them and win them. Earlier in the year, we probably weren’t able to win quite as much, and these guys have.

The casts have noticeably changed on each side of the ball, but Sunday’s contest is still likely to come down to which quarterback makes more plays as Flacco has gotten the best of Brady over the last few meetings between the teams, including last January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s apparent that neither offense is clicking on all cylinders with the end of the season quickly approaching, putting more expectations on each signal-caller to carry his team on his back. The Ravens have essentially been in must-win mode for the better part of a month while New England still needs one more win to lock up its fifth consecutive AFC East championship.

The battle inside the 20 will be critical like always, but the Ravens will be facing the league’s 21st-ranked red-zone defense while the Patriots must deal with the fourth-ranked unit in those situations and Brady has often struggled against Baltimore’s defensive schemes throughout his career.

Both Flacco and Brady will need to be at their best to give their flawed units a chance to succeed in what figures to be another classic matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. But with so many changes everywhere you look on these rosters, the spotlight will be even brighter on the quarterbacks than usual.

“Being able to execute under pressure, being smart, knowing the situation, keeping their poise, knowing how to handle [adversity],” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “[It’s] all the things — the play, the defense, clock management — [and] just good situational football. Each situation is a little bit different, no matter how much you practice it or how many situations you practice. [It’s about] being able to adjust and have that gamesmanship, poise and intelligence on the field to make good decisions at critical times.”

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