1-1 New England Patriots at 1-1 Baltimore Ravens
8:20 ET Sunday September 23 at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Television: NBC; Al Michaels (play by play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst)
Radio: 98.5 in Boston; Patriots Radio Network; Sirius XM channel 225
Odds: Ravens -2.5; over/under 50
Patriots Offense: 26.0 ppg (12th), 388.5 ypg (7th)
Ravens Defense: 18.5 ppg (6th), 404.0 ypg (27th)
Ravens Offense: 33.5 ppg (2nd), 377.5 ypg (8th)
Patriots Defense: 16.5 ppg (4th), 264.5 ypg (2nd)
Series Record: Patriots lead 7-1 (6-0 in regular season)
For more info on the Ravens from a Baltimore point of view, check out some of these sites below. The best resource may just be Aaron Wilson, one of the best NFL writers anywhere; you can follow him on Twitter @RavensInsider.
Team Website: BaltimoreRavens.com
Newspaper: Baltimore Sun
Newspaper: Carroll County Times
Fan Forum: Ravens 24×7
Fan Forum: Extreme Ravens
Fan Forum: BaltimoreRavens.com
Fan Blog: Ravens 24×7
Sports Radio: 1057 The Fan
Sports Radio: Nasty 1570
On offense Michael Oher has moved from RT to LT, replacing Bryant McKinnie; rookie Kelechi Osemele is the new RT. LG Ben Grubbs left a big void, departing in free agency; he is replaced by Ramon Harewood, who is in his 2nd year in the NFL. 37 year old C Matt Birk and Pro Bowl RG Marshall Yanda remain in their positions. Jacoby Jones replaces Lee Evans as the third wide receiver.
Defensively the Ravens are without two linebackers from last year’s team; Jarrett Johnson departed in free agency and Defensive Player Of The Year Terrell Suggs is out with an achilles injury. Taking their places are UDFA Albert McClellan and rookie Courtney Upshaw; Paul Kruger, a 2009 2nd round draft pick also sees some time at LB. Ma’ake Kemoeatu replces Cory Redding at DT next to Haloti Ngata while the secondary remains the same with Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed at safety and Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams as the corners.
Patriots offensive line vs Ravens front seven
Whether it be the talent level, execution, injuries, or schemes and play calling, the Patriots’ offensive line is down from their previous levels of excellence. The Pats did a very good job of neutralizing Haloti Ngata last time these two met, but they had Brian Waters at RG then. Even if the Pats do find a way to stop Ngata they still have to contend with DE Pernell McPhee; I think the Ravens should be able to get pressure on Brady quite often while clogging any running lanes between the tackles.
The Patriots could really use a big game from Stevan Ridley Sunday night
Patriots running game
The Pats have had little success running the ball up the middle and I would not expect that to change Sunday. The screen pass that we were looking forward to seeing has been noticeably absent; this would be a good time to use it. The Pats best runs have come from Stevan Ridley following the blocking lead of his tight end but with Hernandez out that makes those play calls less effective. Josh McDaniels needs to find some way to put Ridley in a favorable position in space against Baltimore’s linebackers.
Pats passing game
The Pats get their best results with short to intermediate passes, and with the offensive line having occasional breakdowns it makes even more sense to call for these type of plays rather than deeper routes which take more time to develop. Even without Aaron Hernandez on the field, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker still create mismatches that the Pats need to exploit if they are to win this game. Bernard Pollard suffered a rib contusion last week so perhaps it’s time for a little payback with a body shot on a running play early. Pollard’s backup is former Patriot James Ihedigbo; from what we saw of him in pass coverage last year the entire Pats offense would be salivating for some balls thrown to whomever he is assigned to cover.
Ravens offensive line vs Pats front seven
Marshall Yanda is as good a guard as you are going to find in today’s NFL. Most NFL fans don’t know about him due to the position he plays, but the guy is an absolute beast. If you ever wonder why Ray Rice (245 yards from scrimmage in two games) is able to put up such gaudy numbers, look no further than Yanda. The Pats will have their hands full with him and will need to attack elsewhere along the line to collapse the pocket and get pressure on Joe Flacco.
Ravens running game
Ray Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL, as both a rusher and pass receiver. Rice is averaging 6.4 yards per attempt through two games and has run for nine first downs and two touchdowns, but inexplicably ranks 24th in rushing attempts with just 26. Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower will need a good push up front from Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love to keep Rice from getting on track. It will be interesting to see where the Ravens try to run the ball; they have had the best success running it up the middle (7.90 yards per carry), which is where the Pats run defense is the strongest. I would think that they may prefer to run outise, towards Rob Ninkovich.
Ravens passing game
Joe Flacco’s strength is on deep passes while he is relatively weak on short to intermediate passes. Torrey Smith (108 yards on four receptions) is on the cusp of becoming one of the best deep receivers in the NFL; as long as he is out there then the Pats cannot sell out to stop Rice. Devin McCourty has quietly improved on his 2011 season (only four receptions for 53 yards allowed on 11 passes thrown his way), but Smith will be quite a challenge; Larry Fitzgerald does not benefit from the presence of Ray Rice like Smith does. Anquan Boldin (6 receptions, 70 yards) is at this point of his career a possession, move the chains type of receiver; it appears he can be stopped with a physical style of defense. Dennis Pitta has become Flacco’s favorite target; he is a move tight end, the Ravens’ version of Aaron Hernandez. Pitta leads the team in both receptions (13) and receiving yards (138) through two games. WR Jacoby Jones has four catches for 67 yards and TE Ed Dickson has three for 45 yards.
On special teams the Ravens have been excellent thus far. Justin Tucker is a perfect 7-for-7 on field goal attempts, and it’s not as if they have been chip shots; two have been over 50 yards and all but one have been 40 yards or longer. Sam Koch is averaging 48.3 yards per punt, with a net of 41.3 yards per punt.
Can the Patriots win this game? Absolutely; the Ravens defense has not looked their defense of old. The Pats need to take advantage of weaknesses at linebacker and shuffling on their offensive line. Do I think the Patriots will win this game? As much as I want to say yes as a fan, objectively I would say no.
I think that the Ravens’ front seven should win more battles versus the Pats OL than the Pats’ front seven does against Baltimore’s OL. I also think that the Ravens’ passing offense (don’t forget about Ray Rice) will win more battles versus the Pats’ pass defense than the Pats passing attack does against the Baltimore pass defense. Ray Rice running and catching the ball is a much better option than Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, which tilts the balance in Baltimore’s favor; I give them the edge on special teams too. Last but not least, the Ravens are pretty good at home: they’ve won eleven straight and 19 of the last 20 at M&T Bank Stadium.
And if I am correct (hopefully I’m not), I would also fully expect for there to be a full meltdown on message boards and sports talk radio in the 48 hours following the game. Don’t worry; there are thirteen more games to play and at absolute worst the Pats will be just one game behind. As an NFL fan and fan of the Patriots we should all know by now that it’s not how you play in September that counts, it’s how you are playing heading in to the playoffs.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Patriots 17
Joan Jett was born on September 22 in Philadelphia, in either 1958 or 1960 depending on what website you want to trust. Among her recordings are Cherry Bomb, Bad Reputation, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, I Hate Myself For Loving You, and covers of Crimson and Clover, Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah), and Dirty Deeds.
Follow on Twitter @AllThingsPats