Is it Sunday yet? I'm already giddy for the AFC Championship game, and I am not sure that I can really wait 6 more days. So, let's discuss the matchup. What does everyone see overall? Personally, I think the pats have a fantastic opportunity to get to the superbowl if they play their game. Conversely, if the game is an ugly slugfest, the Ravens could easily come out on top. Given their defensive prowess over the last decade, there's no reason to believe that they will not be able to at least slow down the pats attack. That said, given the fact that we follow the pats, i'd like to focus on them. Here are what I believe to be the most important aspects of the upcoming game for the Patriots to pull out a win.
1. Neutralize Suggs. This is first and foremost. I don't think we all need to re-live the superbowl loss, or that last playoff loss to the Ravens. The o-line broke down and Brady took some massive hits. Clearly Suggs is the key, and i think that Light will be given help on most obvious passing downs to negate his effect. Suggs is an absolute beast, so I think neutralizing his effect will have a huge effect on the game. Suggs had 14 sacks, but the next highest sack number on the tema is 5 by Ngata.
2. Protect the interior of the line. The Ravens have massive tackles. Practically 1000 pounds on their 3 man d-line between Ngata, mount Cody, and Corey redding. I'm not sure wasting downs by trying to run between the tackles will be effective. I think the pats should try off tackle runs, and some sweeps to keep the defense honest. The Ravens are (and have always been) an extremely stout run defense. I was very surprised that Foster was able to run all over them, when they game planned to stop him. While watching the game, i noticed that Foster took advantage of his runs to the outside almost exclusively. It looked to me that the Ravens had difficulty setting the edge. I think a lot of this has to due with their lack of lateral quickness, as both their d-line and linebackers are more brute forces (similar to Brandon Spikes) than they are fast. I think a commitment to the off tackle running agme would do wonders for Brady's protection to keep the Ravens honest.
3. Tight Ends all day. I could be missing sometihng, but there is absolutely no one on the Ravens defense that I envision can match up with Gronk or Herndo. I mean, most teams don't have these players, but great defenses usually have a player or two that can at least limit or slow down a single player (i.e. Champ Bailey last week). The Ravens have a bunch of solid players, but not a single cover guy that could shut down. I guess it's possible that they could ask Ed Reed, but that would take him out of his playmaking ability - playing center field and reading the play. I don't think that will happen, which means I see Gronk and Herndo, one or the other, getting double teamed all day. They most certainly aren't going to be putting linebackers on them, because their linebackers aren't designed to play in coverage. Ray Lewis is their best cover linebacker and do you really think a 36 year old Lewis can single cover Gronk or Herndo? All the respect in the world for lewis, but i dont think so. And if they bring a corner inside to cover the tight ends, call the off tackle runs to spring the play outside.
4. Rice, Rice, Rice. The Ravens have decent receivers, but everyone knows Rice is the man. He is about as scary in the open field as any player in the league. The pats need to dominate the interior of the line, and be extremely disciplined in setting the edge. You saw a great job of that by Anderson/Ninko vs the Broncos. But one mistake with Rice can lead to an 80 yard touchdown. He is clearly the key, and I believe that the corners will see a lot of single coverage (with help over the top) due to the attention that we pay to Ray Rice. I think if we limit his explosive plays, the Ravens offense as a whole will be limited.
5. The big play. If you watched the Ravens/Texans game, it seemed like every drive they took a shot downfield. Smith is a burner, and their receivers will likely see a lot of single coverage. That said, the Ravnes offense looks relatively simply as i noticed Flacco throwing basically 3 routes - the go route, back shoulder fade, and a deep in route. That is pretty much their bread and butter on offense. I think Belichick will play safeties over the top to make Flacco work underneath. There's no way he's going to let the Ravens get cheap scores by going deep. Make average offenses sustain drives, and work for their points. Similar to the focus on Rice, i think the theme here is the big play. Belichick will be preaching that all week.
Sorry for the long post, but i'm just giddy about this game. I love this team. I love their fight and attitude. I have a feeling that they are on a mission and focused. I think we lose this game by making mental mistakes and turning the ball over. If we take care of the football and play smart on defense, I really don't think the Ravens can outscore the pats. They don't have anyone to guard Gronk and Herndo. They are going to have to commit double teams throughout the game, which will open up large areas of space for others.
Another observation that caught my eye is the Ravens' competition this year. People are dismissing the pats because of the fact that they "haven't beat a team with a winning record." Conversely, the Ravens have beaten 7 playoff teams (Steelers x2, Houston, Cincinatti x2, and SF). What do those teams have in common? Not a single elite offense. I think there's a big question mark on this Ravens defense as well if the best QB they played all year was Roethlisburger. I guess you could argue that Rivers (they lost to the Chargers) is a better QB, and perhaps you would be right because the Chargers put up 34 on the Ravens. The Ravens were also extremely mediocre on the road, losing to the Seahawks, Titans, Jags, and Chargers. This game is in Foxboro.
I think the pats have an advantage and a great chance to go to the Superbowl. What do you guys think?