With the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens set to face off tomorrow night, let’s take a look at five players on the Ravens offense that the Patriots will have to account for.
1. QB Joe Flacco
It all starts with one of the most controversial quarterbacks in the NFL, and that is the gunslinging Joe Flacco. Although he is nowhere near the level that he thinks he is, Flacco is better than some people give him credit for. His big issue at this point is consistency, but there is no doubting Flacco’s arm and the fact that he has very good physical tools. He’s also great against the blitz.
With that in mind, what the Patriots need to do is to keep things at a steady four-man rush and effectively stop Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. I’ll get into more details on how the Pats can go about stopping those two guys later on. As the Philadelphia Eagles showed us, Flacco struggles when forced to make throws underneath and is at his best stretching defenses vertically with his arm. One thing to note is that he is targeting big-play threat Torrey Smith less.
2. WR Anquan Boldin
The most reliable receiver on the Ravens, Boldin didn’t look anything like that against Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles. If a cornerback is physical with Boldin, then that defensive back can shut him down. Devin McCourty played a huge role in shutting down Boldin’s former teammate Larry Fitzgerald, and he can do the same with less help against Boldin. More of a possession receiver at this stage, Flacco will likely look to him to keep the chains moving. I can see him looking in Smith’s direction more often against the Pats in order to take advantage of a defense that is better stopping underneath routes as opposed to the deep ball.
3. TE Dennis Pitta
The Baltimore Ravens have found their No. 1 tight end in Dennis Pitta, and he is quickly risen above Ed Dickson on the depth chart. The Ravens align Pitta in a similar way to how the Patriots use injured TE Aaron Hernandez, as Baltimore has realized that Pitta can wreak havoc in the slot and when split out wide as opposed to in a traditional TE role.
It all makes sense given his skill-set, and he has quickly become Flacco’s favorite target early on this year. He has thrown it in Pitta’s direction 23 times already, while Dickson has amassed a grand total of just three receptions. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Pats stop Pitta, and I think we’ll see Tavon Wilson matched up against him quite often. The rookie safety has the versatility to cover the deep half of the field and tight ends, and he’s especially good against a TE like Pitta who thrives in an up-tempo offense with his downfield ability.
4. RB Ray Rice
Ah yes, the biggest weapon on the Ravens; the man who starts it all with his versatile running style and ability to make big plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Ray Rice is a player who commands the utmost respect of every defense playing against him, because he can beat you in so many different ways. Rice can beat defenses as a receiver, he can break off big gains, he consistently makes long runs, and he can run with power to ground out those necessary three yards.
The New England Patriots have one of the best run defenses in the league, and they solidified that status by stuffing Chris Johnson in Week 1 (0.36 YPC). However, Rice is a different kind of animal. He isn’t nearly as elusive or fast as Johnson, but he has more than enough speed and agility, and he is also far more consistent and a more powerful rusher overall.
5. RG Marshal Yanda
Marshal Yanda is the Ravens’s version of Logan Mankins; an extremely tough, incredibly talent guard who is among the best in the league at the position. It’s amazing to think that Yanda played hurt last season and still managed to be one of the best offensive linemen in the league. Mankins played through the season with an ACL tear (absolutely insane), but it should be noted that he was- understandably- only “above-average” as opposed to “great”.
Yanda is a solid pass blocker, but what separates him from most of the offensive linemen in this league is his relentless run blocking. He is a mauler in every sense of the word and stops at nothing. Yanda is one of the true warriors in the NFL, and it’s great to see that his performance last season led to some national recognition. An unknown to the average fan, Yanda is the Ravens best hope at paving the way for Rice on the inside against the Pats stout triangle formed by Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, and Kyle Love.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.