The New England Patriots will be facing the Baltimore Ravens vaunted defense on Sunday night, and the AFC North power’s D is still strong even without top DE Terrell Suggs.
1. FS Ed Reed and MLB Ray Lewis
Always watch for the ball-hawking Ed Reed in the defensive backfield, and the chess match between Tom Brady and Reed is always fun to watch. I decided to group both of these guys together, because they are top veterans who still make up the core of one of the league’s top defenses. Lewis isn’t as good as he used to be, but he’s still going strong and is good in every facet of the game; coverage included. I want to see how many times each of them matches up against Rob Gronkowksi, because both of those guys can cover better than strong safety Bernard Pollard. The onus will be on Reed to help stop Brandon Lloyd, who will likely be afforded plenty of space when guarded by Cary Williams- he likes playing soft coverage.
2. CB Ladarius Webb
Easily the best cornerback on the Baltimore Ravens, Webb combines his elite speed, good ball skills, and instinctive coverage ability to make himself one of the elite corners in this league. Usually spotted in the slot, I expect him to blanket Julian Edelman if asked to or go head-to-head against the nearly uncoverable Wes Welker. The latter battle would make for one of the best slot battles you will see in the NFL today.
3. DE Pernell McPhee
As a rookie last season, McPhee showed a real knack for getting to the quarterback in a limited role as a situational pass rusher. He was extremely productive in limited snaps and can consistently put pressure on the opposition, and he has also become a better run defender. Coming off of a big game against the Philadelphia Eagles, McPhee is looking to continue his run against the Pats. We’ll see where they decide to line up McPhee, as he is usually matched up against the right guard and right tackle.
4. DE/DT Haloti Ngata
It would be a huge mistake to call Haloti Ngata a nose tackle, and he is truly more of a DL than a DE or a DT of any sort. The Ravens love to move Ngata across the line in order to wreak havoc against the opposition. An explosive and powerful player, Ngata can dominate as a pass rusher or against the run, but he is at his most dangerous going after the quarterback. Nate Solder is viewed as the weakness- among the starters- on the offensive line, but he’s played pretty well thus far. Logan Mankins has had a slow start to the season and failed to contain Calais Campbell last week, so it will be interesting to see where the Ravens decide to play Ngata at the line of scrimmage. They will likely move him around as the game wears on, and both he and McPhee give the Ravens a very dangerous pass rushing duo.
5. OLB Albert McClellan
With Terrell Suggs out, second-year outside linebacker Albert McClellan has helped pick up the slack, along with fellow second-year DE McPhee. Both players are underrated overall, but McClellan is definitely more underrated as he is, perhaps, the next breakout performer in Baltimore. He had a huge game against the Eagles and was an absolute terror against the run with eight tackles. Suggs is lauded as a pass rusher, and it is true that he is one of the best pass rushers in the game. However, what sets Suggs apart from other pass rushers is his incredible tenacity against the run- he shuts opponents down. McClellan is helping the Ravens continue that trend of shutting down rushers, and he is doing this on the left side of offenses. I don’t know if he can keep it up and I’m not as familiar with McClellan as I am with McPhee, but what he has done so far this season has been very impressive.
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