Patriots' Vince Wilfork is one big problem for Ravens

6-foot-2, 325-pound defensive lineman 'is a beast,' according to running back Ray Rice

January 17, 2013|MIKE PRESTON

For a big man, Vince Wilfork moves around a lot. On one snap, he can be at left defensive end or tackle. On another snap, he can be at the same position on the right side.

Sometimes, Wilfork can line up directly over the center.

But he's always in somebody's head — one big, mean, nasty 6-foot-2, 325-pound headache.

"Vince Wilfork is a beast," said Ravens running back Ray Rice about the New England Patriots' top defensive lineman. "He is a flat-out beast. He handles double-teams. [If] you block him single-handedly, he bull rushes. The thing that's great about him is the speed. Some people think that because of his size he isn't going to be able to move as fast. He moves as quickly as any defensive linemen in the league. I've always loved battling, going against a guy like that, because he is going to give it everything he has. He knows what it takes to win. I have tremendous respect for him.

"That's no knock on that whole defense. I think their defense, sometimes because their offense gets so much credit, that their defense gets overlooked. Look at how they were able to neutralize the [Houston] Texans last week. They took the run game away from them. That's something that their defense … they get up for games like this because they know that we run the football. They know that we do different things, but that's a prideful bunch over there. They are no walk-in-the-park defense. You have to go out there and execute at a high level."

But first and foremost, Wilfork has to be contained. He is the mother of all loads. The Patriots were ranked No. 9 in rushing defense during the regular season allowing 101.9 yards per game. A week ago, they held the Texans and Arian Foster to 91 yards.

A lot of teams try to run to the perimeter on New England because there is no room to run inside. Wilfork had 59 tackles during the regular season, seventh-best on the team, and 41 were unassisted.

If you think he is just some blob who clogs up the middle, then you're wrong. He also has three sacks and has knocked down six passes.

He is the complete, big package.

"He is the best guy I will face this year because he is such a complete player," Ravens rookie left guard Kelechi Osemele said. "I only got to face him a couple of plays earlier this season but he is very physical, has a good blast and very good at the point of attack. He is really athletic for his size and what really impresses me is how fast he is."

Fortunately for the Ravens, they are playing Wilfork at a time when the offensive line is peaking. Since shifting Michael Oher to right tackle, Osemele to left guard and inserting veteran Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, the Ravens have been more productiv,e averaging 296.5 yards passing and 162.5 rushing in the past two games.

"Yes, I think so," said Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda, when asked if the offensive line was playing at its highest level. "We had a big test last weekend and we gave up one sack and kept Joe pretty clean. Obviously, that's a huge part of what we try to do every week. If we can get that done, Joe can really throw the ball down the field. I think it's a great job across the board to contain those guys and get one sack."

But the Denver Broncos didn't have any player with the girth, power and quickness of Wilfork. In the past, he has blown up running plays because he simply overpowers at the point of attack one-on-one.

Ravens center Matt Birk has had an outstanding career, but clearly is no match for Wilfork. Osemele and Yanda need to have big games where they work combination blocks with Birk and then scrape off and try to pick off a linebacker in the second level.

"He is just not a guy that we will be able to cover up," Yanda said. "He has a lot of lateral quickness, which makes him good. He disrupts a lot of offensive lines. He's a force in there. We will have to have him blocked and get after him and contain him. It starts with him upfront for us — creating problems."

If they can't, it could be a long game for running backs Rice and Bernard Pierce. If the guards can't scrape off, then New England linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo will be free to make tackles.

"We can't allow him to key on what we're doing," Osemele said. "We're going to have to be unpredictable at times. I think ever since we had to make some changes, we've got the best five guys out there right now and Joe has been playing exceptionally well. It's up to us to keep that going."

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