As the New England Patriots get set to travel to Baltimore to take on the defending Super Bowl champions, there is one thing in my mind that will have a big impact on the outcome of this game. Whatever happens inside the 20 yard line will determine who wins this contest. Obviously there will be other factors, but the production (or lack of production) in the red zone, will definitely have the biggest impact on the final result of this contest.
The Patriots are missing tight end Rob Gronkowski, which really hurt them in the red area last week in Miami. They have the necessary talent to move the ball between the 20’s, but once the field begins to shrink, it gets very hard for guys like Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman to get open. New England went into the red zone four times against the Dolphins, and only came away with one touchdown. That won’t cut it against a team like the Ravens, especially given how Tom Brady has fared against them in the past. Coming into this game, Brady has faced the Ravens eight times, winning five of them. He averages throwing for 253.4 yards per contest, completes only 57.7 percent of his passes, and his touchdown to interception ratio is seven to 10. Brady’s passer rating is also a lowly 72.1.
To add to the Patriots’ problems, Baltimore’s red zone defense currently ranks fourth in the NFL. That doesn’t bode well for the Pats, as they come into this game ranked 16th in the league in red zone offense. If Brady and company settle for field goals throughout this game, I guarantee that New England will lose this game. Joe Flacco and his offense aren’t exactly the 2007 Patriots, but they will have an advantage against a struggling Pats defensive unit, and I expect at least 20 points from them on Sunday. I am confident that New England’s offense will move the ball well all game long, as even being with Gronk, they do have a lot of weapons. The combination of Amendola and Edelman in the middle of the field will give the Baltimore secondary lots of problems, not to mention the potent backfield that they have. But the key will be finishing drives with touchdowns, not field goals.
When Gronkowski was on the field, Brady always had a guy that could go up and make a play over his defender in the end zone. And when Gronk wasn’t open, he drew at least two guys, sometimes three, which opens up a lot of options for Brady’s smaller weapons. Without Gronkowski, the small guys have been forced to fend for themselves, and when you don’t have all that open grass to get open, it gets tough for small slot guys to gain separation. However if Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins can play in this game, they bring larger frames into the picture, which definitely is a must have in the red zone. When you have players that can use their size to go up and get the football, sometimes your best option is to just throw a couple of jump balls to the guys on the outside. Doing that with Amendola and Edelman generally won’t get you far, because of how short they are. However Aaron Dobson has a significant height advantage over many defensive backs in the NFL, and throwing a jump ball to him is a much higher percentage play than chucking it up to the 5’11 Amendola. Hopefully Dobson is active this week, as I think his presence on the field will help New England in a big way, when it comes time to punch it in for six points.