Ravens (3-0) @ Patriots (2-1)
I’m sorry, I still have trouble getting over the fact that the Ravens enter their Week 4 matchup with the Patriots with the BETTER offense of the two teams. It’s going to take more than 3 games for us to collectively thaw our frozen offensive hearts here in B’More, but I promise if we stick together, and take it 1 game at a time, we’ll get through it with Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron at our sides.
Going into the season I thought the Ravens had no better than a 25% chance of winning in Foxboro. Naturally, after the hot start, I am much more optimistic. Let’s look at some reasons why:
Through 3 games, the Ravens offense is reaching heights that nobody saw coming. If I’ve seen one national media piece this week on Joe Flacco’s awesomeness, I’ve seen 20. Willis McGahee leads the NFL in touchdowns. He and Ray Rice are averaging, combined, an absurd 5.5 yards per carry – NCAA numbers. Kelley Washington has emerged as a very legitimate #3 WR, and he seems to pick up a first down every time he touches the ball. The young offensive line is playing out of their minds, opening gaping holes and giving Flacco plenty of time to scan the field and fire up his shoulder-cannon.
While the Ravens enter the game relatively healthy, the same can’t be said of New England. With MLB Jerod Mayo already out, DT Vince Wilfork’s ankle injury becomes even more problematic for the Pats. Wilfork is very important to Bill Belichick’s run defense, and with him likely out, the holes that Matt Birk, Chris Chester, and Ben Grubbs are able to create between the tackles just got a bit wider.
They have issues on the offensive side as well. Randy Moss, after his 100-yard day last week against the Falcons, revealed that he was enduring excruciating back pain during the game, and could barely walk on Monday. Moss will play, and surely be effective, but anything that can slow him down, even a little, is a plus for the Ravens.
Wes Welker was listed as questionable for the Atlanta game with a knee injury, and did not end up playing. His status for Sunday is similarly up in the air, after he was limited in practice all week. Welker is as important as Moss to the New England offense, as he keeps the chains moving as expertly as any WR in the league, and is always getting open quickly for Brady when the defense brings pressure.
However, the Pats have no shortage of tiny white WRs sure to get on your nerves. Filling in for Welker is rookie Julian Edelman (11 rec, 118 yards). Fret not. Despite what this guy will try to tell you, Edelman is no Welker – at least not at this point. Wes Welker is a VERY GOOD veteran wide receiver. Julian Edelman has played 3 games in his career. Having #11 in there is a huge step down from #83.
Another injury affecting New England is one that happened over a year ago. Of course, I speak of the season-ending blow to Tom Brady in 2008. Tom Terrific hasn’t regained his old form yet, and has shown the typical jitters-in-the-pocket symptoms that tend to follow such horrific injuries (see: Palmer, Carson; McNabb, Donovan). He’s obviously still great, but he isn’t playing like the 2007 Brady (yet), and so the Patriots seem, for the moment, incapable of blowing teams away like they did during their 16-0 regular season. Brady is susceptible to pressure, and can be forced into early, errant throws if the Ravens defense can get in his face.
None of this is to say I’m predicting a Ravens blowout. Far from it. Let’s shift to the things that make me a bit uneasy going into this one.
Sure, the Ravens’ D redeemed themselves a bit last week…but there is no getting around the fact that it was against the BROWNS. The Patriots, even with a hobbled Moss, no Welker, and a Timid Tommy Brady, are not the Browns. On paper, the Ravens have nobody to match up with Moss 1-on-1 like the Jets did with Darrell Revis in their victory over New England in Week 2. Fabian Washington has the pure speed to keep up with Moss, but is severely undersized. I feel confident that he can match up well with Welker, but the Pats like to move Welker inside to the slot, where he would face Chris Carr or a linebacker. I’d like to see the Ravens play a lot of Cover 2 Sunday, keeping Ed Reed and Dawan Landry deep over the top. The Pats have struggled in the Red Zone this season, so the weakness of their Red Zone offense versus the strength of the Ravens Red Zone defense is a match-up B’More should try to exploit.
Letting them pile up yards between the 20′s, but keeping them out of the end zone will go a long way towards a purple win. Red Zone offense and defense don’t matter a lick if you are giving up 40+ yard touchdown strikes (because Ed Reed tries to jump an out route and leaves the deep middle of the field completely open like he did several times against San Diego – thank you, NFL Network.)
Holding the Pats into the low-20′s is probably a realistic goal for the Ravens D this week.
The Ravens return games have been crap in 2009. Chris Carr has looked hesitant and unsure, and continues to leave yards on the field. A big game like this may not be the ideal time to give Ledarius Webb his shot, especially considering his preseason fumble issues, so it would be nice to see Carr get on track.
Steve Hauschka is 4/5 on the season, but has yet to face a high-pressure kick, let alone a high-pressure kick in a very hostile environment the likes of which he will see Sunday. In a game that could very well come down to 2 or 3 points, the young kicker leaves us just a little worried.
Finally, there is the evil genius himself, New England head coach Bill Belichick. A master of having his teams completely prepared and of exploiting any weakness, however small, in the opponents, the hooded one can never be overlooked. The New England offense was very balanced against Atlanta, as the ageless Fred Taylor ran for over 100 yards. Nobody runs on the Ravens, so was that all part of a master plan to fool them into thinking the Patriots are back to a balanced attack? And with the way his defense held the Falcons’ strong offense to just 10 points…
Belichick is good. Very good.
That said, the Ravens coaches are no slouches themselves. I think Cam Cameron will unveil some new wrinkles this week that will surprise old Bill, and Greg Mattison will show that he does indeed know how to use the Ravens’ plethora of defensive talent effectively against a great offense.
Also, Joe Flacco will step up and show everyone that which we already know, but which nobody outside of B’More wants to admit – he is better than Matt Ryan.
Ravens 28 Patriots 23