Ravens-Patriots: An old-school shootout?

January 08, 2010|By Mike Preston

The Ravens and New England Patriots are basically old school. They believe a great defense and a run-oriented offense have been the keys to winning Super Bowls, but both are preparing for a possible shootout Sunday.

The winner will be the team that can provide the most pressure and the quarterback who can make the proper adjustments. New England has steady veteran Tom Brady. The Ravens have second-year upstart Joe Flacco, who has played well overall but has struggled in the past two games against blitzes.

"You're going to have to score points," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

The problem for the Ravens is that they have given up four sacks in each of the past two games, and the Oakland Raiders hurried Flacco numerous times last week. While the Ravens might try to slow New England's offense with a strong running game, it's hard to have four or five touchdown drives consisting of 10 to 12 plays.

There are going to be one-on-one opportunities on the outside in the passing game, and the Ravens have to capitalize.

"New England blitzes a fair amount," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "It varies from game to game, but they ... blitz more from the outside because they are a 3-4 team, and it's predicated on outside pressure."

You can expect the Patriots to blitz a lot. Their cornerback play this season has been poor. Shawn Springs is their best cornerback, but he has slowed down during his 14th season in the NFL. Opposing teams have been calling out Patriots cornerbacks Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler as if they were practice squad players.

It's in New England's best interest to get to Flacco, who has struggled recently with blitzes. He doesn't know who's hot and who's not. He doesn't know when to throw it, eat it or tuck and run.

The Patriots' top rusher is outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who has 9.5 sacks. Nose tackle Mike Wright and outside linebacker Derrick Burgess have five each, while former Ravens outside linebacker Adalius Thomas has three.

But the biggest push could come from starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork, even though he doesn't have a sack this season because he has been bothered by injuries.

"He's a huge challenge," Birk said. "He's a great player, has been for a while. ... Always been impressed by the way he plays the run and the pass, and just the disruptive force he can be. So, obviously, a huge challenge for me and a huge challenge for the entire offensive line."

The Ravens will try to get a similar push inside with their tackles and linebackers against New England. The Patriots do not intimidate anyone with their running game, which is ranked No. 12. In fact, Patriots running backs Laurence Maroney and Fred Taylor would be backups in Baltimore.

But New England does have the No. 3 passing attack, with receivers Randy Moss, Sam Aiken and tight end Benjamin Watson. And then there is Brady, who has thrown for 4,398 yards this season. The Patriots have allowed only 18 sacks.

The Ravens need to change that. If they don't, Brady will chew up a secondary that has struggled this season. Opposing teams have targeted the Ravens' cornerbacks, particularly starter Chris Carr and nickel back Frank Walker.

The best way to get to Brady might be through the middle of the offensive line, where guards Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal and center Dan Koppen have struggled against large defensive tackles this season. The Ravens have 32 sacks.

"That's a pretty good offensive line," Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "They have a lot of Pro Bowl players, and we've got to find a way to get through or around them. They stay low and do a pretty good job of communicating."

Barnes has played well lately, giving some juice to a pass rush that barely existed early in the season. The Ravens, though, have played reasonably well the past three games.

The last time the Ravens played in New England, they were penalized for roughing Brady. But the Ravens say they won't be any less aggressive Sunday.

"If you take your aggression away, you take away the way you play the game," Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "And if you take away the way you play the game, what are we? We're the Lions. … You play within the rules, and if something happens, something happens. But you can't take away your aggression."

The Ravens know it's going to be hard to shut down Brady.

"You're talking about probably, arguably, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You're talking about a true professional in the way he plays the game. He's surrounded with crazy talent on that side of the ball, and ... their head coach [Bill Belichick] is a genius when it comes to drawing up schemes.

"You're not just playing Tom Brady. You're playing a whole lot when you go up to play in New England," Lewis said. "That's why they've won three championships."

Listen to Mike Preston from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.

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