By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will renew un-pleasantries on Sunday night in Baltimore, and each team is coming off of disappointing losses. After posting the key matchups on Wednesday, today we’ll bring the keys to the game from a Patriots perspective on what they’ll need to do to win.
This will be a big game for both teams as neither is used to having a losing record. The last time either was below .500 was back in early 2008 when the Ravens stumbled early in the season, going 2-3 but rebounded to go 11-5 and to the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots haven’t been under .500 since the opening week of the 2003 season. So neither one of these teams accepts losing easily and this season will be no different.
Keys to the Game:
Stop Ray Rice And Dennis Pitta-
No that isn’t a typo, Pitta will be a huge part of the offense. We know the Patriots game plan is always to try to take away or limit Ray Rice who is such a big part of the Ravens offense both running and passing. The last couple of meetings they’ve done a pretty good job at this and I doubt that changes this week.
But don’t go to sleep on Dennis Pitta who was targeted 15 times last week against Philadelphia, especially in the slot. Pitta lined up in the slot or as a WR nearly 66 percent of the time last week.
An interesting tidbit from last week according to Baltimore beat writer Matt Vensel, when lined up next to the tackle, he wasn’t thrown to once but as a WR on four plays Flacco threw to him three times most when lined up against the safeties.
Out of the left slot, on 16 offensive snaps he was targeted eight times and out of the right slot he was targeted on four of 15 more. So as much as Rice is the focal point, it’s easy to see Pitta will be a huge target for Flacco. The Patriots have had issues covering the TE position and this one will be a big test.
Something else to watch for, last week especially in the second half, the Ravens WRs had a tough time beating the jam at the line of scrimmage. While this isn’t a specialty of the Patriots corners, it could be something to watch for. If the Patriots can try to jam their WRs and have some success with it, it could make them a bit more aggressive with their pass rush.
Offense, Remain Balanced and Run Effectively-
The Patriots have had some issues protecting QB Tom Brady thus far this season and the best way to protect the QB, especially on the road is to stay balanced and run the ball effectively.
While this is never an easy task against the Ravens, the Patriots can point to the Philadelphia game and see that it isn’t impossible to run on Baltimore. Stevan Ridley has the speed to do some damage if he can get to the second level. It will be on Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and the OL to find a way to get the running game going and keep it going.
That is especially important on the road in front of a loud stadium crowd. If the offense is constantly faced with third and long situations, it will be difficult for Brady to make his calls at the line of scrimmage.
Protect Brady and Use The Short Passing Game-
This week against a tough Ravens pass rush, even without Terrell Suggs, the Patriots need to limit the seven step drops and use the quick hitting passes that negate a lot of the pressure that Baltimore can bring.
That means the use of Wes Welker and the newly re-signed Deion Branch is a key this week. Both of them are extremely familiar and comfortable with Brady at getting open in the 0-15 yard range and recognize situations that will require them to change their routes.
While Rob Gronkowski remains a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, it’s not known how much of the offense Kellen Winslow can absorb in just a few days of practice to get much work this week. I would expect him to only play a few snaps on Sunday.
One thing to watch, Ravens beat writers spoke about the miscommunication between their LBs and DBs covering the tight ends last week. While I’m sure that point will be driven home in practice this week, if there is a recurrence of that, it could mean a blown coverage or two resulting in an opportunity for a big play.