Ravens Pass Offense vs. Patriots Pass Defense
What the New England Patriots were able to do last week against Larry Fitzgerald was insane, and the overall defensive scheming was as perfect as it gets. Fitzgerald was held to just one catch on four yards and is still just two catches away from setting the record for the youngest player to haul in 700 passes in his career. The future Hall of Famer (did I speak to soon?) has to wait another week, thanks to the physical play of Devin McCourty and the overall team effort by the secondary.
Speaking of McCourty, he has looked fantastic so far this year and will look to build on last Sunday’s game against Arizona. He looks like the 2010 version that lit up the league as a rookie, as opposed to last year’s version that got picked on time and time again by quarterbacks.
His next challenge will be facing veteran receiver Anquan Boldin, who is one of the most reliable possession receivers in the game. He does struggle against physical cornerbacks and isn’t nearly as good at gaining separation as he used to, so there is a good chance that McCourty can have another strong week against a No. 1 receiver. Boldin is a great route-runner, has excellent hands, and his veteran savvy is apparent with regards to his ability to get open. That’s going to make for a difficult matchup for the third-year CB in certain aspects, and McCourty will have to be as sharp as ever in coverage to watch for the subtle things Boldin does to get open. It will make for an interesting battle indeed.
Dennis Pitta is the latest tight end to breakout as a pass-catcher, and the Ravens have figured out that he fits the mold of Aaron Hernandez. Ever since Baltimore started using him in the slot and splitting him out wide instead of using him as a traditional tight end, Pitta has rewarded them by showing off his dangerous downfield ability to spread defenses vertically. He has been Joe Flacco’s favorite target so far this year, as Flacco has thrown it in his direction 23 times this season. I think we’ll see rookie Tavon Wilson against him on several occasions, as he played frequently against Jimmy Graham in the preseason and Jared Cook in the opener; two TEs with similar skill-sets as Pitta.
Flacco has a terrific arm but is inconsistent as a whole, mainly because his accuracy isn’t quite as good as his power. He’s a solid quarterback, but he turns into a top QB when blitzed. The Patriots four-man rush will need to be at its best against him, and I think the Pats will limit the blitz against Flacco.
The great news is that Rookie of the Year candidate Chandler Jones has a favorable matchup against left tackle Michael Oher, because Oher is clearly a better run blocker than pass blocker and isn’t a true fit at left tackle. Jones had a solid game in the opener against Michael Roos and turned in a scintillating performance against the terrible De’Anthony Batiste last week. Oher will struggle against Jones in pass protection, but watching those two go at it on rushing plays will be a treat. Oher is a solid run blocker, and Jones is quickly blossoming into one of the best 4-3 DEs against the run in the AFC.
Patriots Run Defense vs. Ravens Run Offense
The Baltimore Ravens have one of the best and most versatile running backs in the NFL in Ray Rice, while the Patriots have arguably the best run defense in the NFL. Brandon Spikes and Chandler Jones helped shut down the Cardinals running game, and Spikes overwhelmed two solid interior OLs in Lyle Sendlein and the mauling Daryn Colledge.
Spikes is easily one of the most violent LBs in the league, and he is one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL. There to help him on the inside are DTs Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, who will be up against Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Ramon Harewood on the inside. Harewood is a first-year starter at LG who will have his hands full against Wilfork, who is one of the best and strongest DLs in the NFL. Love is also a big, solid run-stuffer, but right guard Marshal Yanda is one of the best in the business and is an even better mauler than Colledge. Watching him take on Spikes in the second-level will be a treat, and top veteran C Birk will also be instrumental in paving the way for Rice between the tackles.
Rice will also find it difficult to gain yards on the outside, with fellow ROY candidate Dont’a Hightower holding down the strong-side and one of the best linebackers in the league in Jerod Mayo manning the Will. Safety Patrick Chung is a fierce hitter who is a beast in run support, which more than makes up for his underwhelming coverage. The cornerbacks are also above-average against the run, so Rice will have a challenge ahead of him.
The Ravens have a solid offense, and they still have a very good defense even without Terrell Suggs. The secondary is strong with stars Ed Reed and Ladarius Webb, and the Ravens have a strong front seven that can get after the quarterback and stop the running game. The problem is that the Patriots have too many weapons on offense that the Ravens will have to account for, and the Ravens have a few players in the secondary who will get exposed by players like Gronk and Lloyd.
The Pats are well-equipped to stop the Ravens best player on offense, Ray Rice, as they have arguably the best run defense in the NFL. They will find it difficult to control Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta, but the Pats secondary is probably going to do a better job against the Ravens wideouts than Baltimore will against New England’s pass-catchers.
It’s going to be a close game, but I think the Pats bounce back after last week’s loss against the Cardinals and win this one 27-21.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.