Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How the Patriots Can Handle the Ravens

The Patriots haven't lost a game after a bye week since 2002 but that streak faces a big threat when the Ravens come to town this Sunday.

Baltimore was a popular super bowl pick in the pre-season and they have yet to disappoint. Currently at 4-1, the Ravens are considered by most experts to be one of the top teams in the league. Their path hasn't exactly been easy either. They've already beaten the Jets and Steelers, whom are widely considered to be the other top teams in the NFL. Based on their start to the season, the Ravens could be the greatest challenge New England has faced all season.

The Patriots were being questioned enough with Randy Moss on the roster. Now that he's gone they've only lost more believers. However, a win on Sunday could silence the doubters and help to re-establish the Patriots presence as an elite team in the NFL.

Here are some keys for doing that.

Going into the season, the Patriots offense was considered a pass first unit. However, in the last two games we've seen them revert more to a balanced attack. Which has actually yielded some positive results. The Pats currently have the 14th best run offense in the league (122.2 yds/g). "The Law Firm" and Woodhead will have to keep it up as the offense certainly can't be one dimensional against this defense. The Ravens fare pretty well against the passing game.

Baltimore has been successful against prolific passers
The Ravens' pass defense is 2nd in the league. Last week they faced what was then the number one passing offense, the Denver Broncos. While the numbers (Orton's 314 yds and 2 TDS) would suggest the Broncos were able to be successful, they don't tell the whole story. Kyle Orton's squad didn't even enter Ravens territory until the end of the second quarter and were held to a mere 86 yards for most of the first half. Their only touchdowns came against the prevent defense on long bombs to Brandon Lloyd at the end of each half.

Denver's offense has drawn comparisons to the Patriot's mainly because of Coach Josh McDaniels ties to New England and the pass first mentality. However, Tom Brady disputes this and claims he isn't too worried by Denver's performance.

"I don't think there's a whole lot you take from that game", the Patriots Quarterback said on Wednesday. "Denver has a very different offense than we have. Josh [McDaniels] has his style. He may call some things the same way, but there are not so many things that they are doing that are similar to what we are doing."

The Pats' offense may be different than the Broncos' but it's also going to be different than what fans have been used to seeing for the last three years. Without Randy Moss, many expect there to less deep balls and more short throws and screens.

However, regardless of the change of direction, you would think the Patriots would still want to take some shots down field. As stated above, the Ravens did give up two deep throws of over 40 yards to the Broncos last Sunday. Plus, they allowed a 34 yard bomb from Charlie Batch to Antwaan Randle El against the Steelers the week before. The Ravens haven't faced a quarterback of Brady's caliber yet and with Ed Reed still on the sideline, Brady has to be anxious to test this secondary deep even without Moss.

As for the Patriots' defense, they need to focus on applying pressure and forcing mistakes.

The Ravens' offense has been known for it's running game. However, it hasn't been all that spectacular this season. They currently rank 14th  in the league (114.0 yds/g), behind even the Patriots in that category. However, Ray Rice may have just found his groove at the worst possible time for the Pats. Last Sunday, they were able to run for 233 total yards and 4 touchdowns over a Broncos' defense that stifled Chris Johnson the week before.

The Patriots haven't been the greatest against the run this year, but they've been even worse against the pass. For the defense to succeed, they're going to have to get after Flacco.

The Pats need to continue forcing mistakes
Flacco is primarily a pocket passer and he's very uncomfortable on the move. In the game against the Broncos he started off 8/9, but once Denver's defenders started forcing him out of the pocket he was off the mark on his next 8 throws. Flacco is very inaccurate throwing touch passes on the run so it will be up to the likes of Tully Banta-Cain and rookie Jermaine Cunningham to consistently make him feel uneasy back there.

In addition to making Flacco use his feet, the Patriots need to force him into errors. New England's defense has given up a lot of yards but in the last two games against Buffalo and Miami, they've also been generating key turnovers. That's something that bodes well for them in this match up against the Ravens.

When the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Ravens, they were able to force Flacco to throw four interceptions. While it'd be unrealistic to expect that many picks from the Pats' defense, forcing turnovers will be key. The Ravens currently have the third worst turnover ratio in the league at -6, the same as Brett Favre's Vikings. The only team that is worse in the category is the 0-5 49ers.

So, for the Patriots to secure a victory and avenge the awful post-season loss from last year they need to have a balanced attack on offense but not be afraid to take shots down field without Moss. On defense they can't let Flacco be comfortable, forcing bad throws and turnovers.

I think the Patriots are capable of doing all of these things and they will send a message to the world on Sunday. The dynasty isn't dead yet.

Patriots 24 Ravens 20

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