There are always certain things in any football game that seem obvious to the casual observer. For example if I were a Ravens fan I'd be very optimistic because I could say that one of my strengths, the long passing game, is going against a perceived weakness in the Pats secondary. I would be thrilled that my OL held one of the top pass rushing D's to a single meaningless coverage sack, that didn't occur until late in the 5th quarter.
Given that effort, why would I expect an average at best Patriot Pass rush to cause my team any problems at all. I have an elite RB, and a defense that has 2 sure fire HOFer's in Lewis and Reed, and 2 perennial allpros in Suggs and Ngata. Who does NE have on their defense that can match that. Sure the Pats have Tom Brady, but what QB is playing better than Joe Flacco is....right now. Flacco outplayed Brady in last year's AFCCG. He's had 2 very productive game thus far in the playoffs, AND the Pats just lost their top skill player on offense in Rob Gronkowski.
So if I'm a Raven's fan or a Raven's player, I'm feeling pretty good about his Sunday's battle. The Ravens have had a lot of success in Gillette, (at least relative to the rest of the league) and have ALWAY's played the Pats tough. Plus they are on a real emotional high that fills them with belief. So THIS week, the mediots actually have some ammo when they hammer the Pats and over hype the Ravens
Ravens D vs the Pat O
Forget about the any past results - They have no bearing. I think a better look at what we might see on Sunday from the Ravens could be seen last Sunday in Denver. The Pats run the ball very differently from Denver, but our passing attack is very similar in that Manning is patient and likes to work the short and intermediate routes. Decker is a WR, but runs a lot of Hernandez like routes. Stokely is Welker like, and although DT can go deep, Manning rarely gives him the chance.
It was interesting to see that for the most part in order to keep DT under control, the Ravens chose to go with a man under 2 deep zone being very physical with the receivers and forcing Manning to throw into tight windows for completions.
I think that although the Pat don't present the obvious deep threat,. I think they will see something similar. The Ravens don't have an great rush, Kruger and Suggs are good enough that if the coverage is good, they can eventually create pressure. Their rush in that respect is very much like ours. Playing man under makes it tougher for Brady to throw those quick hitches and hinders the screens. Playing man under makes it easier for people to get into the correct alignment when the Pats go up tempo. So for all those reasons that's what I think we'll see as a base defense. They'll blitz, but they've played us enough not to exceed 20%, and on those 3rd downs, I wouldn't be surprised to see them double Wes and Aaron and play with a single safety and dare Brady to go long
Gronk would have been the match up that would have destroyed this plan, but he aint going to be walking through that door, so there is not use whining about it. (even thought I just did .
) No, but I think we saw a prevue of what IS going to break that defense, and that's the great focus on the RB's in the passing game. Not so much the screens, but the dump offs and wheel routes and slipping them into areas that have been cleared out by Hernandez and Welker
The other thing that will kill this concept is the stretch play and play action passes. Man under coverage is tough on the short passing game, but its a liability in the run game, because the DB defenders are run off the LOS, so if the RB breaks through the front 7, there is more room to run. And the obvious advantage on play action speaks for itself.
Right now Josh and Daboll are basically creating a run and passing attack that will break all the keys that the Ravens THINK they have going into the game. There is NOTHING more demoralizing to a defense then when they realize that their keys don't work. You can't fly to the ball when that happens. Hesitation will become a killer against this offense.
The Ravens gave up close to 120 rushing yds against Denver. with their 3rd string rookie RB getting most of the yardage. The Pats have a vastly superior running attack, and this is really the Ravens Achilles heel that will open door for the rest of the offense to flow, and ultimately wear out a Ravens defense that has taken a lot of shots the last 2 games
The Ravens O vs the Pat D.
You have to be impressed with the job the Ravens OL did vs one of the best pass rushes in the league. You really can't expect the Pats 4 man rush to do any better. Realistically if the Pats want to create real pressure on Flacco they are going to have to scheme to do it. And there are 2 ways. One way is to use an amoeba type front with 6 or 7 people in position to rush, and send 4 and try and confuse the Ravens OL, or scheme a 5 or 6 man blitz.
Remember it is more important to create the SENSE of pressure than it is to actually get there. Flacco is at his best when he has time and can get comfortable in the pocket. Somehow the Pats have to create enough pressure to make Flacco want to get rid of the ball more quickly than he'd like. IMHO, Birk is the weakest link in that OL and I'd attack him directly
In the secondary the Pats have to make a dangerous choice. Do you put Talib on Boldin or Smith. Smith is clearly the deep threat, but I don't like the idea of a Dennard/Boldin match up. I will get tired very fast watching Boldin simply taking the ball away from the diminutive Dennard. Instead I think you trust Talib to match up with Boldin, who is a slower version of AJohnson, and put Dennard on Smith with help over the top from McCourty.
Ray Rice is a formidable RB, but so was Andre Foster. While Ray got 130 yd rushing on 30 carries (4.3 ypc) over a third of them came on 2 rushes, I don't see him as a key to a Ravens victory. I believe the Pats run defense is good enough to control Ray's success.
IMHO a key under reported stat from the Denver game was the fact that the Ravens didn't have a sustained drive over 45 yds. Of the 4 Tds the offense got, only one was a redzone TD, and that was set up by a 31 yd run by Rice.
The fact is the Ravens are not going to beat us unless they are able to break off big chunks of yds at a time. They aren't going to beat us trying to grind and pound it, nor are they going to beat us relying on Flacco's patience and accuracy dinking and dunking. Don't forget he only threw for 53% in Denver.
So for that reason, I'd like to see some version of man under, or 5 under zone with 2 deep safeties as a base and challenge Flacco to go deep, and force him to throw to tight windows underneath. In the latter he's no Brady, and in the former I trust McCourty to make the plays that the Broncos didn't. On of Smith's TD, there wasn't a S to be seen. As far as the front 7 are concerned I'd like to see a lot of varied fronts designed to confuse blocking schemes.
Other key points
1. Clearly the coverage teams have to be better
2; Obviously he can't lose the turn over battle
3. And less obviously we can't give up more penalty yds. Denver had over 30 yds more in penalties than the Ravens. That's a LOT.
4. Before I wrote this I watched NBC's sports channel's Turning point. Its a good show. In it they showed action from all for games. As well as showing the key plays, they also show a lot of the talk and chatter from the players. If you caught the Denver/Raven segment and aren't from Baltimore, you are just going to hate Terrell Suggs, who somehow had the focus and energy to jaw with the Bronco fans near the Raven bench ALL game.
I pray to god, that there are some fans who will give Terrell some payback when he begins to realize (early in the 4th quarter, I believe) that the it sin't gong to happen again.
BOTTOM LINE – While how well the Raven OL defended the Bronco pass rush, scares me a bit, I'm pretty comfortable in my belief that the Pats are going to cover....at least. I see a really closely contested first half, as the Pats have to withstand the initial emotional burst by the Ravens, but the Pats are going to bein to pull away in the 3rd and by 4th quarter we are to be able to relax and start thinking about our superbowl opponent.....and have a great retirement Ray.