By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are coming off of a disappointing 20-18 home loss against the Arizona Cardinals. They are looking to bounce back on Sunday Night on the road against the Baltimore Ravens at M & T Bank Stadium. 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 Sunday on WHDH-TV at 8:20 PM 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 24-23 road loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. This was a game that the Eagles came from behind to get the victory. The Ravens just like the Patriots are 1-1 so far this season, but something tells me they will be ready for this game.
On defense, the Ravens have several familiar names, but so far this season they have not played at the same level as the defenses you normally see from this team. Last week against Philadelphia, Michael Vick threw for 371 yards, and was 23-32 which is a 71 % completion rate. It is only two games, but the Ravens defense is 27th in the NFL in passing yards, and 20th in rushing yards. The loss of Terrell Suggs to an injury seems to have really affected this defense.
As mentioned prior, they do have players the Patriots need to watch for on defense. On the line, it all starts with Haloti Ngata who is tough to run on, and also has gotten after the quarterback this season with two sacks.
In the middle of the Ravens defense, you still have to deal with Ray Lewis as he might have lost a step, but continues to make plays. When you talk about the secondary with this unit, they still have one of the best safeties in the game with Ed Reed. Tom Brady will still have to account where Reed is on the field at all times.
On offense, this unit is going through a transition as they are attempting to change to a more high powered “no huddle” offense led by quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens quarterback so far this season looks comfortable running this offense, and Flacco has done a nice job so far as he currently has a 60% completion rate.
In the running game, they do have one of the best in the game with Ray Rice. The Patriots run defense has been excellent so far, but Rice is a challenge, and so far this season he is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
In the passing game, a player to watch out for is tight end Dennis Pita, who leads the team with 13 receptions, and is definitely a favorite target of the quarterback. The Ravens also have a deep threat with Torrey Smith who is averaging 27 yards per reception, and has the speed to go down field.
What makes this game so interesting is that both teams are different on both sides of the ball from the last time they played in the AFC Championship game. However, after really looking at this match-up, I think it will be close, but I definitely see ways the Patriots can pull off a mild upset on the road.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots offense needs to establish the run with Stevan Ridley. The Ravens over the years have been very difficult to run against, but this season is different as they are giving up 129 yards per game so far. Benjarvus Green-Ellis ran for 91 yards, and 5.1 yards per carry in the opening game of the season against the Ravens.
If Ridley can run the ball, this is just going to open up the play-action passing game, which could be huge against the Ravens. I think if Ridley has a good day of running the ball, it could go a long way in getting this offense in gear.
2. Rob Gronkowski needs to take advantage of the middle of the field in the passing game. I think the Patriots waited too long to get the ball to Gronkowski against the Cardinals. In this game, they need to go to him early and often.
In their last game, The Ravens defense had a horrible day in covering Eagles tight end Brett Celek. He was able to have 8 receptions for 157 yards, and gave the Ravens problems all game long. The Ravens could be really vulnerable in the middle of the field in the passing game, and Gronkowski is the player that could really take advantage of it.
3. The Patriots defense needs to limit the big plays in the passing game. Flacco does throw a really good deep ball, and has a serious weapons with Torrie Smith and Jacoby Jones.
The Patriots secondary needs to keep the play in front of them, and not let the Ravens wide receivers go deep. This is going to force Flacco to methodically drive his team down the field which he still needs to prove he can do on a consistent basis.
4. The Patriots defense needs to contain tight end Dennis Pita, and especially on third down. Pita has become a security blanket for Flacco, and when he needs that reception to keep drives moving, he will probably look to Pita.
Whether the Patriots have a safety or a linebacker on this tight end, limiting his receptions could be a huge key in this game. If the Patriots can stick to Pita especially on third down, they could really affect the Ravens offense.
5. The Patriots need to contain Ravens running back Ray Rice. I feel Rice is one of the best in the game, and if you can limit his yards, you will force Flacco to beat you, and I think that is what you want if you are a part of the Patriots defense. Again, I want to see if Flacco can take a team on long drives consistently throughout the game.
If you asked me a few months ago, I think I would have predicted a victory for the Ravens in this game. However, I feel a couple of factors have changed my mind for this game.
First, the Patriots defense is much improved from the unit the Ravens saw last season. Second, the Ravens defense is not as dominant as it was in years past, and I think Brady will have opportunities to take advantage of this unit. I am predicting a close 20-17 victory for the Patriots that will be won I feel by the defense.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Also, please feel free to listen to a preview of the upcoming game from the radio show Patriots Fourth And Two which includes an interview with Greg Bedard from the Boston Globe.