After conversing much with the knowledgeable Raven fans at BaltimoreBeatdown, I have received much information about their team and players. So for now, I piled together 5 things the Patriots must do in order to win this game.
Let me start out by saying we have a superb offense vs. a superb defense, and a defense that we don't know will show up vs. an offense that we don't know will show up. This game can go either way. A writer named Mike Reiss has brought up some stats that I would like to copy and paste here to show:
Patriots: 3rd — 32.0 avg.
Ravens: 12th — 23.6 avg.
Patriots: 15th — 21.3 avg.
Ravens: 3rd — 16.6 avg.
Patriots: 5th — 89 of 194 (45.9%)
Ravens: 7th — 97 of 229 (42.4%)
Patriots: 28th — 87 of 202 (43.1%)
Ravens: 2nd — 71 of 221 (32.1%)
Patriots: 3rd — Plus-17 (34 takeaways, 17 giveaways)
Ravens: Tied-11th — Plus-2 (26 takeaways, 24 giveaways)
Red zone offense (TD percentage)
Patriots: 2nd (47 touchdowns/72 trips)
Ravens: 17th (25 touchdowns/49 trips)
Red zone defense
Patriots: Tied-21st (34 touchdowns/61 trips)
Ravens: 1st (16 touchdowns/42 trips)
Now that that is out of the way, here are my keys to the game against the Ravens.
Contain the Run-This is quite an obvious one. Ray Rice is one of the best RBs in the game today, and he is backed up by a capable, and familiar face, in Ricky WIlliams. Ray Rice is a contributor in both the run, AND the pass. he can catch the ball very well, so limiting Ray Rice will be key for the pats this game. Spikes, Mayo, and Love that form our interior triangle will have to be stout, And Chung will have to display his vision against the run if Rice were to go onto the outside. Which also brings me to Ninko and Anderson. While I don't think Baltimore's tackles are anything spectacular, they will still have to square up against them and contain the edge from Rice, and force him into our interior triangle. If we stop Rice, we make Baltimore more one-dimensional, and that will be huge for the pats since their passing game is inconsistent.
Contain the deep threat- This is something the pats Defense has been inconsistent at all season. While having Chung and McCourty back there instead of Nate Jones(ugh...) and Ihedigbo(ugh...) is a major upgrade to our secondary making it much much tougher, Guys like Boldin, Smith, and another familiar face in Lee Evans, are as tough as anyone in the league, and they are skilled. Our safeties will have to put up their A game, and get rid of the deep passes. Flacco has an incredible arm, and as long as we put him into 3rd and long situations and our deep pass coverage does their job, our offense will get out onto the field, and we will have more chances to score points.
Interior line must be ready- On their front 3, they got Redding, Cody, and Ngata. We all know about Ngata, but Cody is bigger (plays about 50% of the snaps as far as I have been told), and Redding can push the pocket. baltimore has the best front 3 in the NFL. Who is our interior line? Mankins, Wendel, and Waters. Waters and Mankins are both great players, but Wendel is going to have his hands very much full this game. Brady tends to get antsy more often when pressure comes from the middle. Their DL is bigger than ours, so is we can somehow slow them enough to give Brady 3-5 seconds, we should be fine.
Stay away from Ed Reed- I don't care if he is not that healthy. He is the best safety in the game, and we need to show respect. He will be roaming the field, probably to where Gronk will be since I believe he is now Brady's favorite target. Or Hernadez. Either way, stay away from him, and try to get mismatches through their LBs and CBs. I expect Hernandez to come out at RB again this time, but not really to run it, but just become another option. If we have Herndo as our RB, we can have Gronk, and 3 other WRs on the field. Tell me that will not keep a defense guessing? I do expect Herndo to get in a couple runs, but not off the bat. We need to create mismatches with everyone else, and let Reed go wherever he feels like. Try to not pass it deep so much either. Reed has tremendous closing speed and concentration. If this all fails, Brady will probably throw 2-3 INTs, and we will lose. I cannot stress how important it is to stay AWAY from Reed, and create mismatches elsewhere.
They will blitz. Be prepared.- Ravens are an attacking team on defense. I think Harbaugh knows as well as anyone that in order to beat the pats offense, pressure must be made on Tom Brady. I already touched upon the interior line, but their LB core is very strong as well, and both Suggs and Johnson can pass rush. Light and Solder have blanketed and took out pass rushers like nobody's business this season, but I'm not going to sit back and feel relaxed about those guys. Raw Lewis will even rush up the middle I believe, or at least the other guy McClain would. I fully expect draw plays, and screen passes. I also expect Gronk and Herndo to help Block on occasion as well. A safe Brady, is a happy Brady I always say.
Let me add a 6th key to the game here.
Pressure the hell out of Flacco- Whenever I see flacco in the pocket, he looks like a statue. Unable to move, not afraid to get hit. The pats also boast a strong front seven, with our front 3 being Deadrick, Love, and WIlfork. But also, our LB core of Anderson (a very good pass rusher), Mayo (Fast to the ball. Tough. Great vision), Spikes (strong enough to knock the socks off of Brandon Jacobs. Vision. Tough), and NInko (solid all around player. A poor man's Vrabel, that can set the edge alright, and pass rush). I don't fully know how good Baltimore's OL is, but we must pressure Flacco, and put them into 3rd and long situations. Getting a strip sack would be awesome here too. We cannot let Flacco stand as a statue, while our secondary is doing their dammest to keep their receivers at bay. This should be the 2nd most important key here.
And that's all I have. This game is going to be extremely tough for the pats, but I am confident the Ravens will have their hands full as well. This game is going to be exciting. I predict Pats win 24-20.