The Patriots and Ravens have clashed five times since 2009, with New England coming out on top in three of those games. Aside from the 2009 playoff blowout, every single one of these contests have gone down to the wire, and I fully expect that to happen again this Sunday.
I went back and looked at the stat-lines of all five games yesterday, and I found two big common threads in the Patriots wins. I think that if they accomplish these two things this weekend, then we will see another New England victory.
The first thing I noticed, was the balance their offense had in the wins, and the lack of balance in the losses. New England ran the ball 44% of the time in their wins, as opposed to only 38% of the time in the losses. Tom Brady has the necessary weapons to move the ball against this Baltimore defense, but if he wants to be effective in the red zone, running the ball will be a must for the Patriots. Hopefully Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins are active in this contest, as their size will definitely help inside the 20 yard line, but running the football consistently with LeGarrette Blount, and Stevan Ridley would be the most beneficial thing to do for the Patriots. Even if they aren’t very productive, just having that threat there will make life much easier for Brady, especially when they get close to the end zone. If Brady has to drop back 50+ times in this one, I not only guarantee that the Ravens will win, but they will absolutely obliterate the Pats. Brady will be under fire all game long, and their trips inside the 20 will almost always end in Stephen Gostkowski trotting onto the field to attempt a field goal. I really hope that New England stays with the run game throughout this tilt, as that is a huge key in taking down the Ravens.
In Baltimore’s two wins in this five game span, they have averaged running for 177.5 yards per game. When the Patriots win, that average goes all the way down to 110.3 yards a contest. In the case of the 2013 version of these two teams, it is a battle of two weaknesses, as New England struggles to stop the run, while the Ravens haven’t been able to get a consistent attack going with Ray Rice. The Patriots rank 31st in run defense, and the Ravens rank 29th in run offense. I don’t know how things will shake out, but I do know that whoever prevails in this “game within the game”, will get the desired victory. The Patriots can’t afford to let Ray Rice get going, because when you combine that with Flacco’s deep threat receivers, you will have a hard time stopping the Ravens offense. And at the same time, Baltimore probably doesn’t want to get into an offensive shootout with Tom Brady, even if he is without Rob Gronkowski. Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, and Sealver Siliga will have to seal up the middle of the Pats defense, if they want to have a successful game in stopping the run. Their last two outings have been solid, and it would be nice to see them continue their hot streak.
One last interesting note I picked up in going over the last five meetings between these two teams, has to do with the turnover battle. Despite being 3-2 versus the Ravens since 2009, the Pats have turned the ball over 11 times, while only taking it away five times. It is surprising in this day and age to see a statistic like that, especially given how great the Patriots generally are at protecting the football. This years’ team is not nearly as talented as some of the teams that Bill Belichick has had in the past, and they may not be able to dig themselves out of a three turnover hole. Let’s hope that Brady and company are careful with the football, and maybe that defense of theirs can come up with a turnover or two (after forcing a turnover in 36 straight games, they have struggled as of late, only coming away with two over the last three games).
When it is all said and done, if New England stays balanced on offense, and keeps the Ravens running game in check on defense, they can get this win. Brady has the weapons to move the ball between the 20′s, but running the football will open up opportunities for them to punch it in for touchdowns, instead of field goals. When you play a team as talented as the Ravens are, producing field goals will usually not result in a win. As for the defense, if the Ravens dormant running attack suddenly is awakened, then that allows Flacco to use the play-action pass to hit his receivers deep, which never ends well for opposing teams. He has one of the strongest, and most accurate arms in the NFL, and when you combine that with a decent running game, your defense is in trouble.