The New England Patriots are coming off a hard-fought loss to the Arizona Cardinals, leaving our team with a 1-1 record. The Baltimore Ravens are a team with a stronger pedigree, but are they a better match-up? This article seeks to find out.
1. The New England receivers vs the Baltimore defensive backs
There’s a very obvious name on the Baltimore defensive backfield, and that’s Ed Reed. He’ll probably go down as the greatest safety in NFL history, and Tom Brady needs to be mindful of him on every play. Reed is an absolutely gamechanger; additionally, Lardarius Webb is a massively underrated corner who hasn’t allowed a touchdown in ages. Bernard Pollard is getting a lot better in coverage and is always a solid run defender.
The Patriots have great receivers, even without Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Lloyd should be good to go, Wes Welker’s going to get more targets than he has thus far, Rob Gronkowski is still the best tight end in the league, and all of the receivers are top notch. However, that secondary is too good to test. The only member of the Baltimore secondary I’d willingly target is the embarrassingly bad Cary Williams.
2. The New England offensive line vs the Baltimore defensive line
Even without Terrell Suggs, the Baltimore defensive line is very strong. Pernell McPhee is a rising talent, Ma’ake Kemoeatu will have a strong matchup against Ryan Wendell, and Haloti Ngata is a perennial pro bowler.
The Patriots offensive line has to be in the spotlight now, as it’s struggled recently. Dan Connolly’s status is uncertain, Logan Mankins has been struggling, and Nate Solder still has yet to fill the shoes of Matt Light. The offensive line will need to make big strides if they want to handle the strong front the Ravens field every year.
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Baltimore linebackers
This is a bit of a tough matchup to diagnose. Ray Lewis is one of the best linebackers in history, Courtney Upshaw is a promising rookie, and Albert McClellan is coming off a strong game against the Eagles.
Likewise, there’s a solid grouping of talent the Patriots have to work with. Ridley has been on fire recently (so long as he gets his blocks), Bolden is a strong option late in the game, and Woodhead has lots of versatility. I anticipate the runningbacks getting a lot of work tonight.
Edge: New England
4. The Baltimore wide receivers vs the New England defensive backs
I used to think the Ravens had an extremely talented receiving corps, but not so much anymore. Boldin can make some clutch catches, but he’s not very fast. Torrey Smith has improved a lot, but he has a very simplistic route tree. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson have both improved since last year, but they’re easily covered.
The Patriots secondary is really starting to impress me. Devin McCourty blanked All Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The safeties have all looked great, and they have the option to play Sterling Moore or Ras-I Dowling at nickel or dime. The only weakness has been Kyle Arrington, who still isn’t awful.
Edge: New England
5. The Baltimore offensive line vs the New England defensive line
The Baltimore line isn’t very impressive, and they’ve only got worse this season. Although Matt Birk and Marshall Yanda are two of the very best in the game at their respective positions, they both struggled against Vince Wilfork in the AFC Championship game. The Ravens are starting a rookie at right tackle, a wildly inconsistent left tackle, and Ramon Harewood at left guard. I’m going to reiterate this one more time: the Baltimore Ravens, a professional football team, are starting Ramon Harewood on purpose.
I anticipate Chandler Jones having a good game against Oher and Harewood, Kyle Love busting up Harewood, and Ninkovich to have his way with Kelechi Osemele. Wilfork will have to have a monster game if he wants to contend with Yanda and Birk.
Edge: New England
6. The Baltimore runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
We all know about the incredible talents of Ray Rice. Raymundo Arroz is one of the very best runningbacks in the league, both in terms of power and quickness. It will take good play not only by the defensive line to hold up the guards, but by the linebackers to fly to the hole, wrap up, and deliver a solid blow.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what the Patriots excel at. The trio of Hightower, Mayo and Spikes are a fantastic corps that has defended the run well all year. It will take a team effort to stop Ray Rice, but this is a squad that can do it.
Edge: New England
I like the Ravens, and I like Baltimore fans. This is a team with talent at every level. However, they have major problems as well. Harewood isn’t an NFL-caliber starter. Dean Pees thinks it’s acceptable to back off his coverage by about ten yards, allowing underneath routes to be completed. Cam Cameron is a stunningly awful offensive coordinator. Most telling to me, however, is how poorly the Ravens played against the Eagles last weekend. They looked so bad that I cannot, at this juncture, call the Baltimore Ravens a good team.
Final Score: New England 24, Baltimore 20
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.