Tag Archive | "Tom Brady"

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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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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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, 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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Don’t buy into Brady contract as savior to Flacco negotiations

Posted on 25 February 2013 by Luke Jones

You could imagine the comments from many Ravens fans as soon as news broke Monday of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s three-year, $27 million contract extension that will take him through the 2017 season.

Were Joe Flacco and his agent Joe Linta paying attention to those figures?

If Brady will take less money for the team’s sake, why won’t Flacco?

I wish Joe would be a team player like that guy in New England, who is twice the quarterback he’ll ever be.

While it’s true that Flacco and any other quarterback due for a major payday in the next year or two will take a hit in the public eye because of the perception created by Brady’s reworked deal that clears cap room for the Patriots in each of the next two seasons, there’s really no comparison between Brady’s situation and the one for the current Super Bowl MVP.

First and foremost, the Patriots essentially turned the remaining years of Brady’s current contract into a five-year, $60 million contract with all money guaranteed, according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network. It’s a sweet deal for a veteran wanting to finish his career with the Patriots, a team notorious for cutting veteran players with escalating salaries and declining skills. And while the numbers don’t sound as sexy as the recent deals signed by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, the $60 million in guaranteed money sounds nearly as good as Brees’ contract even if it means Brady won’t make quite as much money over the entire life of the contract.

That much guaranteed money for a quarterback entering the final years of his career is a major accomplishment.

Second, Flacco is at a completely different stage of his career as the 28-year-old seeks his first large payday after completing his rookie contract signed in 2008. Brady will be 36 prior to the start of the 2013 season and just worked out the final contract of his career. Let’s not forget Brady signed a four-year, $72 million contract with $48.5 million in guaranteed money at the start of the 2010 season to become the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time.

Even if Brady presently remains the superior quarterback — though Linta will remind you his client outplayed the Patriots signal-caller in each of the last two AFC Championship games — the expectations over the next five years for each player differ. Flacco is projected to be entering the best years of his career while Brady will try to hold onto what he is right now for as long as he can.

Brady negotiated the extension knowing the Patriots have made a habit of purging veterans near the end of the career. He may have done the Patriots a favor from a cap perspective, but it also ensures that he won’t be kicked to the curb at some point over the next few years. In contrast, Flacco and Linta know they have all the leverage in the world over general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens, who have no choice but to re-sign the quarterback with no other real option available to them.

Finally, Brady’s hometown discount that reduces the cap numbers but leaves the Patriots on the hook for a ton of cash over the next five years doesn’t eliminate the other quarterback deals signed over the last couple years. The good news for the Ravens is that Brady’s restructure reduces his 2013 cap number to $13.8 million, which is projected to lower the exclusive tag number to just under $20 million if the Ravens ultimately elect to go that route without a long-term deal in place by March 4.

The reality is that one player taking a deal like this doesn’t mean others will — or should — follow suit. And while Brady’s extension might linger in the back of Flacco’s mind when it boils down to the final minute details of how to structure the contract, it’s not going to have any substantial impact in moving the meter in terms of guaranteed money.

Total money is typically what makes people react, but guaranteed money is the substance of any NFL contract and Brady’s $60 million guaranteed is a very nice five-year retirement plan for one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.

It has very little impact on the Flacco negotiations.

To suggest otherwise is just wishful thinking.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for AFC Championship

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Luke Jones

Coming as close as they possibly could to reaching the Super Bowl last season before heartbreak occurred in the form of a Lee Evans drop and a Billy Cundiff missed field goal in the final seconds of the AFC Championship, the Ravens return to the scene of the crime in Foxborough as they again take on the New England Patriots.

Defeating New England for the first time ever in the regular season by way of a 31-30 final in Baltimore back in September, the Ravens will now try to win their second postseason game at Gillette Stadium in the last four seasons. Aside from their 33-14 blowout victory in the wild-card round of the 2009 season, the Ravens are used to seeing their meetings with the Patriots come down to the wire as each of their other four meetings in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by fewer than seven points.

The Ravens will again hope to extend the career of inside linebacker Ray Lewis by one more game and advance to their first Super Bowl since Jan. 28, 2001. And for Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, a win means taking another step toward elite status at their respective positions in the National Football League.

Of course, standing in their way are Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the two men who have been at the top of their respective classes for the last decade.

Here’s what to expect as the 12-6 Ravens try to punch their ticket to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII …

1. The Ravens won’t have to deal with Rob Gronkowski, but Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez will cause major problems over the middle of the field. It’s no secret that slot receiver Wes Welker and Hernandez are the most dangerous weapons at Brady’s disposal, and they each provide difficult challenges to the Baltimore pass defense. Corey Graham is the clear choice to match up against Welker in the slot as the Ravens will run the nickel package extensively, and the cornerback is playing with more confidence than ever after intercepting two Peyton Manning passes last week in Denver. Welker will get his yards, but the Ravens are confident that Graham can prevent the Pro Bowl wideout from having a monster game. Hernandez will be trickier to cover as defensive coordinator Dean Pees will likely lose a combination of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and strong safety Bernard Pollard in trying to mix up coverages against Brady. I have my doubts that either player will be able to stick with him as the middle of the field has been a problem all year long. Hernandez will produce 80 receiving yards and a touchdown.

2. With the Patriots focusing heavily on Torrey Smith by matching Aqib Talib against the speedy receiver, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta will combine for 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Smith has been a major thorn in the side of New England as the second-year wideout has produced three touchdowns and 209 receiving yards in two contests against New England. The Patriots could use Talib against Smith exclusively – the Baltimore receiver usually lines up on the side of the field on which Talib plays anyway — but they will likely offer safety help as well if they were paying attention to what Smith did against Champ Bailey last week. Deep safeties will allow more room for Boldin and Pitta to work the middle of the field as the Patriots ranked 29th against the pass this season. Though still mixing it their spots to be aggressive with the vertical passing game, the Ravens will try to use Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on first and second down to create third-and-manageable situations in which Flacco loves to use his tight end and possession receiver. The Patriots will do everything they can to stop Flacco’s deep balls to Smith and Jacoby Jones, meaning the quarterback will instead choose to attack the intermediate portion of the field more frequently.

3. As he has for much of the season, running back Stevan Ridley will add another dimension to the New England offense that will wear down the Ravens in the second half. Pees downplayed the significance of his defense playing 87 snaps in each of the last two games, but you have to wonder how much more a group that’s already less than 100 percent can take if they’re on the field for extended periods on Sunday. Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards this season as the Patriots had the seventh-best rushing attack in the league. The New England offense still centers around Brady, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of Ridley in the second half to see if the Patriots can tire out the Ravens’ front seven, thus neutralizing any potential pass rush in the process. Inside the red zone, the Patriots won’t hesitate to use a quick-snap approach if the Ravens aren’t set and will hand off to Ridley before the defense even knows what’s happening. Any defense spends so much time studying Brady and trying to dissect him, so it’s easy to overlook the New England running game in the process. It will pay dividends in the second half for the Patriots, especially if they have a lead.

4. The team that wins the battle inside the red zone will come away with the AFC title. The objective is clear against the Patriots — even if it’s a difficult one. You know they’re going to score points, but if you can hold them to field goals on at least a few scoring possessions while you score touchdowns on your trips inside the 20, you’ll typically find yourself within striking distance in the fourth quarter. It will be a test of will in that area of the field as the Patriots scored touchdowns on 70 percent of their trips inside the red zone (best in the NFL) while the Baltimore defense was second in the league by allowing touchdowns on only 43.4 percent of opponent’s trips inside the 20. Conversely, Flacco and the offense must come away with touchdowns when they’re knocking on New England’s end zone. This is where Boldin and Pitta will be critical against the league’s 13th-ranked red-zone defense. If you want any chance of beating New England on the road, you cannot trade field goals for touchdowns or you’ll find yourself in a hole early. The Baltimore offense is playing at a high level and shouldn’t have any reason to believe they can’t move the ball against the Patriots at will, but they need to finish drives with touchdowns. Barring an inordinate number of special-teams and defensive scores – like the Ravens win in Denver last week, for instance — the team that prevails inside the red zone will be the one advancing to New Orleans.

5. Joe Flacco will continue a tremendous postseason with 250 passing yards and two touchdowns, but the Ravens will again fall excruciatingly short in Foxborough with a 31-27 loss. The Baltimore quarterback is playing the best football of his career over the last month and will have another strong performance against the Patriots on the second-biggest stage the NFL has to offer. However, Flacco needs to advance to the Super Bowl to truly receive the recognition he deserves. As was the case last week, the Ravens are matched up against a better overall team, but they have every opportunity to win against the Patriots, who have some clear deficiencies unlike the Broncos. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, this season should be viewed as a success considering the number of injuries this team has sustained and how badly it was struggling just over a month ago. In the end, however, the Patriots will just have a little too much offensively for the Baltimore defense to handle and for the Ravens offense to overcome. This one could very well come down to the final possession of the game, but I just can’t bet against Brady and the Patriots in the conference championship, a game in which they’re 5-1 in the Belichick era. It won’t come down to a devastating dropped touchdown or field-goal miss, but the Ravens will fall short yet again despite a terrific effort in New England.

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Ravens hoping T. Smith continues big production against Patriots

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Much has been made about the acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib and the effect it’s had on the New England secondary, but you’ll forgive the Ravens and wide receiver Torrey Smith if they aren’t overly impressed.

Of course, Baltimore wouldn’t share such a sentiment publicly about the Patriots’ 29th-ranked pass defense, but a 38-35 victory over the Denver Broncos in which Smith shredded All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey for two long touchdowns won’t exactly cause you to fear New England’s underwhelming unit. Talib has provided a boost to New England’s defense, allowing the Patriots to move cornerback Devin McCourty to free safety, but they still struggle against the pass.

In two career games against the Patriots, Smith has caught nine passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. His Week 3 performance in which he reined in two touchdowns less than 24 hours following the tragic death of his younger brother was one of the most inspiring efforts in the NFL this season.

“It’s not that there’s any difference against those guys,” Smith said. “I just play the game. I just happened to play well against them the past few times. It’s not like I have their number or anything. I just go out there and run our offense. I’ve been able to be OK against them – hopefully, it continues. But it’s going to be tough.”

During the regular season, the Patriots allowed a league-worst 74 passes of 20 yards or more, which should leave quarterback Joe Flacco licking his chops as the Ravens completed 62 passes of at least 20 yards and have repeatedly gone vertical in each of their two postseason wins this month.

Acquired for a fourth-round pick from Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, the mercurial Talib has stabilized the New England pass defense, but it’s difficult to imagine offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell shying away from the Patriots’ No. 1 corner after the Ravens went after Bailey repeatedly in the divisional round. In six regular-season games with New England, Talib made 19 tackles, broke up two passes, and intercepted one.

Labeled a “riverboat gambler” by Caldwell, Talib will likely be entrusted with slowing down Smith or Jacoby Jones in the vertical passing game, but the Ravens proved once again last Saturday that they won’t hesitate to attack any cornerback in the league.

“You don’t always go into a ballgame [with the thought] in mind that you are going to go after this guy or that guy,” Caldwell said. “You try to spread it around and look at what they do from a schematic standpoint and see where you can attack what best suits your offense. That’s kind of how we look at it more so than anything else.”

In other words, if Smith or Jones is matched up in single-man coverage against Talib with no safety help, you can bet Flacco will be ready to take a shot vertically.

Pees hiring hit man?

Asked how to make life uncomfortable for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees offered a humorous but candid suggestion about the man he watched closely in his days as a New England assistant to Bill Belichick.

“Hire Tonya Harding,” said Pees as he laughed. “If they were getting off the bus, I’d spray water outside the bus and hope it freezes. He is who he is. I went against him up there in practice for six years. He’s as competitive of a person as I’ve ever been around.”

In addition to trying to pressure Brady inside the pocket, Pees explained how critical it is to mix up coverages against New England’s many talented weapons, ranging from Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen out of the backfield.

Welker operates almost exclusively from the slot as he was targeted 125 times for 1,040 receiving yards from that position, according to Pro Football Focus. Cornerback Corey Graham will draw the daunting task of staying with Welker as the Ravens are expected to play the nickel package extensively, with Graham sliding inside as No. 3 cornerback Chykie Brown enters the game to play on the outside opposite Cary Williams.

“He is a very quick guy. He catches the ball well,” Graham said. “Brady is looking for him a lot, and he makes a lot of guys miss with fakes and things like that, so he is a complete receiver. I have my hands full in the slot, but I am up to the challenge.”

The Ravens will not have to deal with the matchup nightmare that is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday after re-injuring his forearm against Houston last Sunday, but Hernandez also provides a unique blend of speed and athleticism at the position. Such an athlete at that position creates matchup problems as Pees must decide whether to use a linebacker such as Dannell Ellerbe or strong safety Bernard Pollard in coverage.

The answer will vary depending on the situation while facing a Hall of Fame quarterback, according to Pees.

“You can’t go in there and say, ‘The whole game, OK, I’m going to put a strong safety on this guy.'” Pees said. “That’s not going to take Brady very long to figure that one out, nor is it going to be the same if we end up putting a linebacker on him all the time. The key is to let them have to figure it out after the ball is snapped, who’s on him, and then you just can’t keep doing the same thing over and over with Tom, or he’ll gash you.”

Bouncing back from “special” kind of nightmare

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