All of the experts it seems, with the exception of Mike Ditka and John Madden, are taking the Ravens to beat the Patriots this week. While both teams are coming off of disappointing losses in Week Two, New England’s upset loss to the Cardinals has people rightly wondering about the chemistry of the offense, particularly with Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup for the next month. With the game being in Baltimore, the home field edge in a close contest is enough to push most of the experts (including all but two GiR writers) to conclude that the Ravens will pull this win out.
But there is a perception out there that the Ravens have had the Patriots number of late, and should have won the AFC Championship Game last season save for a “drop” by Lee Evans and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff. First, it wasn’t a drop, but rather a fine defensive play by Patriots’ defensive back Sterling Moore. Second, with the exception of the Ravens’ blowout win in the 2009 playoffs, the Ravens have never beaten the Patriots. Never. The Patriots are 6-0 against the Ravens in the regular season since the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore. While the Ravens are a very talented and highly competitive team, to say they have had the Patriots’ number is a massive overstatement. They won once, and they have done a good job of keeping games close. But this Week Three match-up may well be Baltimore’s best opportunity to score its first regular season win in the series when the teams square off on Sunday night.
Three keys for the Patriots:
1. Rattling Joe Flacco. Although Joe Flacco perceives himself as the best quarterback in the game, he has not done anything yet in his career to establish that opinion as a debatable fact, and his performances lack consistency, as seen last week in the Ravens’ Week Two loss to the Eagles. The key (and this is true of any quarterback) is to rattle Flacco early and often, and force him to make mistakes. Left tackle Michael Oher is not a true left tackle, and struggles against the speed rush. Look for Chandler Jones to try and disrupt the offensive attack of the Ravens by getting shots at Flacco.
2. Can Brady be effective with his cobbled together group of receivers? Strangely, the Ravens offense is currently performing better than the Patriots’ offense and the Patriots defense is performing better than the Ravens. However, the Ravens have been susceptible to the big play, and the Patriots are a big play offense. But with Hernandez out and the Ravens being one of the best equipped teams to cover Gronk, Brady will have to utilize Brandon Lloyd (who is questionable to play), Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, the newly signed Kellen Winslow, Jr and the re-signed Deion Branch. That is a problem for the Patriots, who are facing one of the more talented secondaries in the NFL.
3. Running effectively. Given the list of receivers for Brady this week, running the ball is going to be an important part of their offense, and the Patriots run blocking is capable of opening big holes for Stevan Ridley. How will Ridley do against the slimmed down Ray Lewis?
Three keys for the Ravens:
1. Pressure Brady. I can just leave this here every week, can’t I? The Ravens’ defense has yet to really gel, and the Patriots’ offensive line did not have an exemplary game against the Cardinals. If the Ravens are going to win this game, they must take Tom Brady out of his game and not allow him the time to carve up the middle of the field.
2. Big plays on offense. The Patriots through two weeks have been able to prevent big plays when on defense, which is a major step forward from the 2011 season. Torrey Smith is a dangerous receiver who is likely to draw coverage from Devin McCourty. McCourty had a thoroughly forgettable 2011 but seems to have rebounded this season. This will be a key match-up when the Ravens have the ball.
3. Balmer’s Gronk. Tight End Dennis Pitta is a mini-Gronk but looks every bit as effective. Through two games, Pitta has 13 receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. Just as Gronk provides a difficult match-up for opposing defenses, so too does Pitta.
PREDICTION: My head says that the Ravens have enough factors in their favor to pull out the win, or even blow the Patriots out this week. My heart says the Patriots are dangerous coming off a loss, but the Ravens are also coming off a loss. In this week’s picks, I took the Patriots, but that was more of an opportunity to gain an advantage in the standings should the Patriots be able to pull off the upset. In truth, this is a game between two very talented teams, neither of whom has gelled yet, and one of whom is going to start the season 1-2. I simply don’t want it to be the Patriots, but recognize that while the Week 17 or playoff Patriots are perfectly capable of winning this game, the Week Three Patriots are not far enough along yet in their development to hold off a Ravens team that has revenge in its sights. RAVENS 28 PATRIOTS 20
Finally, no live blog this week either for the game. It’s going to be a crazy weekend in the Ghost Rat household, so hopefully I can get back to a live blog in Week Four.