This week, I was contacted by the guys at the Patriots’ blog Foxboroblog about answering some questions on this week’s Ravens-Patriots game. I happily obliged, and sent them some questions as well.
Here’s what I asked Ricky of Foxboroblog, and what he had to say (see his questions and my answers here):
1. Were you surprised at the ease with which the Ravens took care of the Patriots in last year’s Playoffs? What were your expectations going into that game, and how does the result affect the way you feel going into this one?
Yes, I was very surprised because I thought even if Baltimore was going to win that game; it was going to be a close game. Baltimore dominated New England right from the get go and took the offense right out of its rhythm with the constant pressure put on Tom Brady. Not having Wes Welker proved to be a huge hinderance for this team offensively because other than him and Moss, New England did not have much to get the ball too and Julian Edelman was having his first game at being the primary wide receiver. I have seen Ray Rice from his days at Rutgers and he is a very good running back. McGahee and Rice took it to New England’s front 7 and dominated the running game to set up Flacco.
The result of last year does not affect my expectation going into this game because Belichick has had 2 weeks to prepare for the Ravens, who in my opinion, are the best team in the AFC as of right now. John Harbaugh is one of the most underrated coaches in the league and Baltimore has won on the road in tough places like New York and Pittsburgh. However, having Wes Welker can really help this offense and New England did a good job against the run against Miami’s 1-2 combo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to just 83 rushing yards.
2. What has been the biggest surprise so far this year for the Patriots? As a fan, what have you seen that you didn’t expect coming into the season?
The biggest surprise so far for the Patriots has been the play of the young rookies in the offense. Aaron Hernandez has been used as more of a downfield threat in the New England offensively this year and has helped such as in the first half of ballgames against the Jets and the Bills. They added another rookie tight end in Rob Gronkowski who has caught a couple of touchdowns as well. With Moss out of the picture, New England has gone to more multiple tight end formations than I expected. Also, the special teams has made a huge impact with the blocked punts, kicks, and Brandon Tate’s kick return ability.
Even with the new look offensively, New England has surprised me with their balanced attack and abandoning the aerial deep threats with Randy Moss. That is why Moss was ticked off with offensive playcaller Bill O’Brien at halftime of the Dolphins’ game, leading to his dismissal from the team. With this new balanced attack, the Patriots now are looking to make defenses honest allowing room to complete that intermediate pass on third down to move the chains and control the clock.
3. Colts suck! (this was more of a joke that he didn’t quite get at first – here’s his original reply:)
If you are implying this as a question, you can’t count out the Indianapolis Colts in any season as long as they have Peyton Manning. True, the timing with the receivers was way off in the 19-9 victory over the Chiefs in their last game, but I still expect the Colts to get to 10-11 wins. True, it won’t be 12 wins, but that is tough for the Colts to do in an AFC South that is going to be competitive the rest of the way. Yes, teams have ran the ball on them such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, but until I see Indy go on a big losing streak, I think they will be just fine when all is set and done.
And again, after I clarified the joke:
True u got that right
4. What areas of the Ravens do you think the Patriots will be able to exploit on Sunday?
I think the area where the Patriots can exploit on Sunday is if Joe Flacco turns the ball over. Remember, last year, New England’s defense was one of the top teams in the league in takeaways. True, they are missing some of the key cogs to that defense from last year (Leigh Bodden, Ty Warren), but if New England can get after Flacco, they can force turnovers. Opponents have 6 INT’s in 4 games against Flacco this year and even though the Ravens are 2nd in the league against the pass, I would not want to give Tom Brady a short field even without Randy Moss because he will make you pay.
Even with Baltimore giving up 101.2 yards per game on the ground, I think New England will be able to stay balanced because in their last two games, the Patriots have had success running a balanced attack with a running game. They didn’t have much of that in last year’s matchup with Laurence Maroney. True, they don’t have a star running back, but they have a couple good ones in Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, and new sensation Danny Woodhead from the Jets’ practice squad. Also, if Fred Taylor can play in this game, his veteran presence can help as well. If New England can hang in the game, it will allow Brady to get more time in the pocket to throw with a balanced attack.
5. How do the Patriots’ strengths and weaknesses match up to those of the Ravens?
New England’s strength as of right now is taking the ball from their opponent as defense. They have had seven interceptions in four games despite giving up a ton of yards to opposing offenses. This is a young motivated defense that is able to bend but don’t break. The Ravens are 22nd in the league in points per game (18.4). If New England can force Baltimore into field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone.
As for the Ravens, they can attack New England’s secondary early and often. New England is 28th in the league against the pass so far. If Joe Flacco can avoid turning the ball over, the Ravens can also have success throwing the ball downfield. I expect Baltimore to go after New England at the left corner position with the inconsistent play of both Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington. Devin McCourty has improved game by game particularly with his coverage skills. I look for T.J Houshmanzadeh to exploit New England over the middle like DaVone Bess did two weeks ago for the Dolphins.
6. How will the Patriots adjust their scheme to keep Ray Rice in check, after what he did to them the last time around?
Ray Rice is a tough running back to stop ever since I seen him play his collegiate ball at nearby Rutgers University. New England had trouble last time against Rice becaue of their inability to tackle Rice in the open field. The minute Rice broke through on that opening play for the touchdown; New England’s run defense was out of their rhythm. Despite the inefficiencies of the secondary, their front seven is the strength of the defense.
If New England can contain the big play in the running game like they did against a similar back in Ronnie Brown last week, Rice can be contained. Willis McGahee is also a concern for the Pats because once Rice wears down the defense, McGahee can run the ball with his power style allowing more missed tackles. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times in that playoff game to just ten passes. If New England can shut down the run game, Flacco will need to make more plays, but it will be a challenge.
7. Is too much made about Belichick’s record after a bye week? Would you feel confident after a bye week no matter who the opponent, as long as he has the extra time to put a game plan together?
The Patriots are 14-4 after a week off under Bill Belichick and I think that record helps Patriots’ fans feel confident going to into their next game. That record exemplifies the level of preparedness that Belichick gives to his players during that week. It does not matter who the opponent is because you know New England has the extra time for Belichick and his staff to look at the small differences that can change a game in his team’s favor. You also have to keep in mind that his players will be motivated because most of them were on the losing end of the 33-14 blowout in the Wild Card game last year and you know the Patriots want their revenge in this ball game.
8. Who will win the game Sunday, and why?
This is going to be a close game and I think even though New England does not have Randy Moss back in the fold, they can still have success passing the ball with the addition of Deion Branch on Monday. Branch has struggled with injuries and inconsistency since leaving New England five years ago due to a contract dispute. Branch fits in with New England’s style of their intermediate to short distance passing game. New England having Wes Welker this time around can make a huge difference in this ball game if the offensive line gives Brady the opportunity to get rid of the football.
As for the Ravens’ offense, I think they are going to be able to move the ball downfield, but they have to take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone and on third downs. New England’s defense has allowed opponents a 55% conversion percentage on third down this year which is the worst in the league. That being said, it is going to come down to who makes the big mistake. Flacco has been more turnover prone than Brady this year and I think that one turnover is the difference.