By: Russ Goldman
This week the Patriots are playing the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. So before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on CBS Sunday at 1PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Ravens are coming off of a 31-17 win at home against the Denver Broncos. They are 4-1 so far this season, and have looked very impressive. The Ravens also have had excellent wins on the road against the Jets and the Steelers.
On defense, the Ravens are still one of strongest in the NFL, currently ranking fourth in total defense. The Ravens strength on defense right now is in their front seven. The defensive line is led by Haloti Ngata, who is proving to be on the best nose tackles in the league. At linebacker the Ravens have some exceptional players led by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Lewis, as always, will control the middle of their defense and Terrell Suggs will be coming off the edge to try and put pressure on Tom Brady. Their weakness right now has to be the secondary. With Ed Reed still out this group is just not the same.
On offense, the Ravens have definitely become a more balanced unit. Their running game is still a huge strength, with Ray Rice averaging 4.2 yards per carry. In the passing game the Ravens have added Anquan Bolden and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They also have Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, who are both very effective. At quarterback the Ravens have Joe Flacco who is still developing, but getting the job done and leading his team to victories.
Right now the Ravens have to be one of the best teams in the league and this will be a tough game for the Patriots. Since the game is at home I still think the Patriots have a very good chance of coming away with an important win in the conference.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots need to win the the turnover battle.The Patriots actually have been pretty good in creating turnovers. In the last game against Miami the Patriots intercepted Chad Henne 3 times, and right now their turnover ratio is at +4. On the flip side the Ravens are -6, which is shocking from a team that is 4-1. Joe Flacco already has 6 interceptions. If the Patriots can create turnovers, it can certainly give them a better chance at coming away with a win.
2. The Patriots need to stop the run on defense. Ray Rice killed New England in last year’s playoff game. Rice so far this season has ran 363 yards with 2 touchdowns. The Pats have not been able to consistently stop the run. Currently they rank 20th with giving up 112 yards per game. If the defense can stop Rice, they will force Flacco to beat them. If the Pats can make the Ravens one dimensional on offense, it could be a huge advantage for the team.
3. The Patriots desperately need to be better on 3rd down defense. The Patriots are ranked the worst 3rd down defense in the league, and this factor has really hurt the defense this season. It doesn’t matter if it is third and long or third and short, New England has struggled to make stops on third down. They will need to improve in this area dramatically on Sunday, and if they can’t get off the field, the Ravens are going to control the game and it could end up being the difference in the game.
4. The Patriots offensive line needs to play at high level in protecting Tom Brady. To be honest this group has been great this season. They have really kept Brady clean the majority of the year. However, the Ravens can get after the quarterback, and I think Matt Light will have his hands full with Terrell Suggs. That match-up is going to be one to watch, and the Patriots are going to need him to step up and win this battle on Sunday. Also, Dan Koppen will have plenty to worry about with Haloti Ngata. For the Pats to win on Sunday I believe they need a big game from Brady. He won’t have a great day if the offensive line doesn’t do a good job of protecting him.
5. Tom Brady needs to take advantage of the Ravens Secondary. Without Ed Reed this unit isn’t as intimidating as in past seasons, and I also think the New England will have a hard time running the ball. However, as I mentioned, if their is a weakness in the Ravens defense it would be their secondary. Fabian Washington and Chris Carr are average cornerbacks. Brady should be able to find open receivers on Sunday, and I think the Patriots best chance to win will probably fall on Brady.
Many experts are again picking against the Patriots. I just have a good feeling about this matchup. I think the play of the quarterbacks could ultimately decide this game, and if that is the case I like my chances with Brady. I am predicting a 21-17 victory for the Patriots.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section and I look forward to reading them.