When the New England Patriots face off against the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow, one of the key matchups is going to be the Pats vaunted pass offense against the Ravens pass defense. The Baltimore Sun believes that the Ravens pass defense has the advantage over the Pats pass offense, and I would like to break that matchup down a little bit. I usually reserve these sorts of breakdowns for my Sunday preview pieces, but I feel like giving an early preview of my thoughts on this matchup.
Tom Brady is going to be without Aaron Hernandez, and the Pats added Kellen Winslow Jr. to somewhat replace him in the interim. New England also signed Deion Branch, but Julian Edelman will still receive a large role in the Pats offense. I honestly think the team is trying to see what they have in Edelman at this point in order to see if he can be the answer if Welker ends up leaving after the season.
In any case, Welker will also be receiving a steady stream of targets tomorrow. I don’t know how his snap breakdown will be, but he’ll be playing more often; it’s possible that we see both Edelman and Welker in the slot on multiple occasions. When Welk is on the field, Brady likes to pass to to him. So as long as Welker is on the field and getting some snaps, he will be getting his targets.
But the big issue here is about how the Ravens stack up against the Pats receivers. Free safety Ed Reed is still one of the best in the business, and Ladarius Webb is a top corner with tremendous ball skills. The Ravens love using him on the right side of the field and in the slot, while Brandon Lloyd usually runs his routes on the left side of the field. That will leave him matched up against RCB Cary Williams most of the time, and Williams is a player who plays notoriously soft in coverage and gives receivers too much space. He doesn’t give up big plays, but he consistently gives up receptions to the opposition.
Webb will likely be covering Welker or Edelman throughout the game, while Jimmy Smith will be matched up against somebody on the right side of the field. He is the opposite of Williams, as Smith plays extremely tight in coverage but is very susceptible to getting burned.
Speaking of players who are susceptible in coverage, strong safety Bernard Pollard is one of those guys. As any Pats fan can grimly attest, the man can hit, and he’s solid in run support. The Ravens were definitely worse off with former Patriot James Ihedigbo playing against the Philadelphia Eagles after Pollard went down with a fractured rib in the first quarter, as TE Brent Celek just owned Ihedigbo and the DBs. The large drop-off speaks to how poor Ihedigbo is in coverage (good against the run), because Pollard isn’t exactly the tidiest safety in coverage. If he gets matched up against Rob Gronkowski, then Gronk is going to consistently beat him.
Reed and Webb are the two stars to keep all eyes on in this game, and watching Reed and Brady battle it out mentally is going to be a real treat. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Ravens decide to utilize Reed, especially with regards to bracketing a receiver like Lloyd or something of that sort.
The Ravens have talent in the secondary with two top players, but Williams and Pollard can get exposed easily and Smith is an inconsistent player all told. The Raven secondary is pretty good, but the Patriots passing attack is just too high-powered for the Pats to not have the advantage here.
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