1. Contain Ray Rice
This one is obvious – no matter how great Joe Flacco and his receivers looked against the Broncos on Saturday, Rice is the number one option in the Raven offense. He is one of the best running backs in the NFL and easily the Ravens best offensive player. His frame alone makes it extremely tough for defenses to contain him. He is a very short player, built solid and low to the ground, and his ability to get through the smallest holes and burst out of them is unparalleled in the NFL. He is not only a great runner, but he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. He has to be the Pats number one priority on defense. If you let Rice get going, it is going to be tough to stop the Ravens.
2. Brandon Lloyd and the running game
With the loss of ‘Gronk’ there will be pressure on some of New England’s other weapons to step up and help Brady and the offense. Brandon Lloyd headlines these other weapons. Welker and Hernandez will receive extra attention by Baltimore’s secondary, which will most likely leave Lloyd in a one on one matchup on the outside. He has to take advantage of this, especially considering that Baltimore has no true great cover corner. He needs to make some plays outside of the numbers to help Welker and Hernandez in the middle of the field. Another group that will need to step up is the Pats running game. Towards this end, Steven Ridley has been great all year. He has helped balance out the offense and make Tom Brady’s passing attack even more lethal. Ridley will once again have to be effective against the Ravens because we all know that if you become one dimensional against a Raven defense, then your QB will be under a lot of pressure. The emergence of Shane Vereen in the divisional win against Houston may be huge for the Pats. He is another weapon that can not only run the ball, but split out and win matchups against linebackers in the passing game. Danny Woodhead’s health will be something to watch going into this game, as he is a very good 3rd down back that has a knack for making big plays.
3. Baltimore’s receivers vs. Pats corners
The Ravens showed on Saturday against the Broncos that they have a multitude of weapons on the outside that they can deploy. When the Ravens want to spread you out, they can do it and do it effectively. Anquan Boldin is a big physical guy that has great hands, and Torrey Smith is flat out fast. Between the two of them the Ravens have a great outside duo that is tough to stop. Torrey Smith can stretch the field with the best of them, and I think he is severely underrated when it comes to going vertical – he can go deep with the best of them. With Smith going vertical, it opens up things in the intermediate-to-short routes for Anquan Boldin, and he has shown throughout his career that he can produce. The Pats corners are going to have to step up and play the game of their life if they hope to slow this dynamic combination. Pats cornerback Aquib Talib arguably had his best game of the year on Sunday against one of the best receivers in the game in Andre Johnson. Talib is a big aggressive corner that can matchup with Boldin well. He will need to be physical and aggressive with him to try and make some plays. Torrey Smith will most likely be matched up with Alfonzo Dennard, who is a very good rookie cornerback. However I don’t think he will be able to handle Smith by himself, and I think that is where Devin McCourty comes into play, as he will need to help Dennard contain Smith.