Wildcard Preview: Baltimore at New England

Ravens Patiorts

WILD-CARD GAME!!!

MATCH UP: Baltimore @ New England

Kick-off is Sunday in Foxboro at 1:00 ET.

It’s is a new season—the Playoffs!

Coach John Harbaugh has led the team to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.  This is not an easy accomplishment as many new coaches have not had the same success. It may have been a frustrating road getting to the Playoffs, but the team is in and they have an opportunity to win.

Second Chances

The Ravens face a formidable opponent with an excellent quarterback and skilled receiving core.  New England also has a perfect record at home this year.  In the first match-up with New England the Ravens played close to the very end, but came up short. The team will get a second chance against the Patriots and another opportunity to right their wrongs of the season.

STATISTICAL MATCH-UP

New England Offense: 3rd Baltimore Offense:13th

6th Points 26.7                                                    9th Points 24.4

3rd Passing Yards 277                                      18th Pass Yards 213

12th Rush Yards 120                                            5th Rush Yards 137

New England Defense:11th Baltimore Defense: 3rd

5th Points Allowed 17.8                                                   3rd Points Allowed 16.3

12th Passing Yards 209                                                    8th Passing yards 207

13th Rush Yards 110                                                          5th Rush yards 93.2

Injury Impact

The Patriots have lost receiver Wes Welker for the playoffs with a knee injury. This will have an impact on the Patriots offense because Welker has been leading receiver.  WR Julian Edleman will fill in for Welker as he did earlier in the season. Welker will also be missed in special teams as he was also used for punt return with 36. It has been reported that QB Tom Brady has been playing with three broken ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand.

The Ravens have had some key injuries of their own missing cornerback Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb.  In addition, the Ravens long snapper Matt Katula has been dealing with tightness or tendinitis in his elbow which has affected his snaps.  In the beginning of the season the team lost Brandon Ayanbadejo who was captain on special teams and played linebacker in certain situations.

The Patriots

OFFENSE: New England’s offense is all about QB Tom Brady and the passing attack. Brady has thrown for over 4000 yards with over 28 TD’s.  The team counts on the passing game for most of their offense as they are ranked 3rd in passing and 12th in rushing. However, screens and dump offs to the running backs is an important part of the offense. Laurence Maroney has been the featured back running for just under 800 yards. The other backs are involved as well with Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and veteran Fred Taylor who was signed in the offseason.

The Patriots have an experienced and a well disciplined offensive line anchored by center Dan Koppen. They have an arsenal of receivers in WR Randy Moss, TE Benjamin Watson and TE Chris Baker. WR Moss has around 80 receptions and is always a threat to the secondary. As mentioned, WR Welker has over 123 receptions and is an important part of the offense. Welker’s presence will be missed.

DEFENSE: The revamped defense features a young group with some veterans. This unit has had problems but has buckled down lately.  They have improved as the season has progress and are 4th in the league in points allowed at 17pts. per game.   Last year’s defensive rookie of the year ILB Jerod Mayo has been a great addition and leads the team in tackles. ILB Gary Guton, also a second year player is have a good season as well.  The Patriots have had success intertwining young talent with veterans like NT Vince Wilfolk and former Ravens OLB Adalius Thomas. 7th year veteran LB Tully Banta-Cain leads the team in sacks with 9.5. A new secondary includes Terrance Wheatley and veteran Shawn Springs. CB Leigh Bodden and rookie CB Darius Butler also contribute to the secondary. Last week Butler had an interception return for a touchdown.

MATCH-UPS: Chalk It Up!

Ravens Secondary vs. Patriots WR’s: Containing WR Randy Moss will be a priority. In their first match-up the Ravens did a decent job containing WR Moss. The defense must account for TE Benjamin Watson.  WR Eldelman, taking over for Welker, is a good receiver and can’t be overlooked. CB Foxworth has played better and CB Carr has filled in well. With Ed Reed in the line up for a second game after in a row it will be an added benefit.

Patriots Run vs. Ravens D: This should be a no contest as the Patriots are heavy with the pass and the running game is not their strong suit. The Ravens have been stout against the run the second half of the season. Then again, with the Patriots you never know and the defense has to expect anything. RB Kevin Faulk had 37 receptions in the regular season and will be on the Ravens radar.

KEYS: –Pressure on QB Brady. The Ravens front four are playing better and did a good job last week against Charlie Frye, who was under constant pressure and getting knocked down. Brady has been sacked only 18 times. However, there is a statistics for ‘QB Hits’ and Brady has been hit 70 times. That ranks 8th highest in the league. Though his sacks are low, teams have been able to get pressure on Brady.  As a comparison, Peyton Manning has been hit 43 times, Flacco 72 times, Roethlisberger 92 times.

–Disguise the blitz packages. Tom Brady does a stellar job of blitz recognition. LB Barnes is a great pass rusher and they need to continue getting him involved.

–In the first mach-up the Ravens were caught off guard in short yardage situations as Brady went with a hurry-up and the quick snap. The Defense must be ready at all times.

– As usual, eliminate the big passing plays downfield. The intensity has been good; the defense  must continue to set the tone and be aggressive.

Ravens offensive game plan: The Patriots may show their hand early by stacking the box. They don’t want to let Ray Rice (or Willis McGahee) run up and down the field on them. They will probably make Flacco try to beat them with the pass. The Patriots can’t gamble too much as they have been susceptible to the pass, that will allow Cam Cameron to dial up some passing plays if they try to press the rushing game.

KEYS: –Stretching the field, the Patriots secondary is good but have given up some plays this year. In order to open up the running game the Ravens need to show that they will throw the deep ball. It wouldn’t be a bad to send WR Demitrius Williams on a few deep routes.

–Pass protection for Flacco must be improved.  It hasn’t been great the last two games. This is in part because some of the offensive passing plays have taken too long to develop. The unit should call some short passing routs.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to roll Flacco out on a few plays too.

— While Ray Rice will be the featured back, the unit should continue mixing in McGahee. McGahee has had a limited role this season and as witnessed in Oakland he has fresh legs and is dangerous in the red zone.

–WR Mason has been keyed in on by defenses and the Patriots will do the same (they did in the second half of the first match-up). Cam Cameron will have to get a few new looks and motion receivers to get targets open.

Special Teams: The impact of missing Wes Welker also affects punt returns, as he had 36 returns. The return duties will probably go to RB Kevin Faulk or Edleman.  Kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal accuracy is 83 percent this season. Punter Chris Hanson had 56 punts for an average of 39.7 with 5 touchbacks and 18 inside the 20.

The Ravens have been fortunate with Jalen Parmele returning kick-offs in place of Webb. In these types of games field position is critical. Fans might be surprised but Baltimore is ranked first in the return game. Take look at this link:

http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&statisticCategory=KICK_RETURNS&conference=AFC&role=TM&season=2009&seasonType=REG

Over the Mental Hurdle:The Patriots strive in the playoffs and are unbeaten at home. The Ravens haven’t had much success with them head-to-head and Tom Brady always makes plays.   The good news is that the Ravens made it into the playoffs and can put the frustrating losses of the regular season behind them. They are playing physical on defense and are getting back to running the ball on offense.  The team was under a lot of pressure to play better and get into the Playoffs. With this new life line they have their confidence back and seem to be re-energized.


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