Every week since I joined Musketfire.com, I have provided where the Patriots rank statistically as well as where their upcoming opponent ranks statistically. Well, the Boston Globe’s Extra Points blog already posted the statistical rankings for this week, so instead of reinventing the wheel (a common teacher phrase), you can just click here to see the actual stats themselves. Instead, I will provide some analysis as to where this plays into Sunday’s playoff game.
The Patriots rank in the top 10 (6th) for points scored per game, which shouldn’t be a huge shock. What may be a shock is that the Ravens (9th) aren’t too far behind. Despite facing a win-or-you’re-out scenario this past Sunday, the Ravens have been effective moving the ball and scoring points. What is interesting is how the Ravens offense has evolved over the course of the season. If you recall, the Ravens opened the season pass-happy and Joe Flacco was putting up good numbers. However, around the time they played the Patriots and the subsequent games, they came to realize that Flacco wasn’t ready yet to take such a big Year 2 leap. They then adjusted and moved towards their more familiar identity: controlling the clock by running the ball, coupled with their strong defense. The Ravens finished the season ranked 5th in yards rushing (2,200), powered by Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain leading the way blocking (and picking up key 4th-down conversions). Look for the Ravens to try and play the Pats more physical than they did Week 4. The Ravens were still pass-happy then, but did have success when they ran. The Patriots found success passing the ball against the Ravens, even with a relatively ineffective Wes Welker in the game (it was his first game back from missing 2). It won’t be as easy this time, as the Ravens have improved their pass defense and finished ranked 8th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (207.2). Like the Ravens, look for the Pats to try and be more physical and assert the running game with a healthy stable of Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney (maybe), and Kevin Faulk. I would anticipate the Pats having the most success running the ball while in a shotgun formation when the Ravens may be playing the pass.
The Patriots finished in the top 5 defensively for points allowed per game (5th), as did the Ravens (3rd). As one would expect, the Ravens again have a strong defense, one that has improved since playing the Pats Week 4. Even though Welker was held in check Week 4, he commanded attention that opened things up for other receivers. Nine different receivers caught at least one pass that game, with Welker leading in receptions (6) and Ben Watson leading in yards (51). The Ravens will be bolder (if that’s possible) and be a little more blitz-happy against a Welker-less Patriot offense. That can be taken advantage of if Julian Edelman can make the proper route adjustments and the Patriots go back to their screen game with the receivers and Faulk out of the backfield. The Patriots should have Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork back on the defensive line, which should help their run defense. Running up the middle will be tough against that group, but yards can be had off the edges if the linebackers can’t provide containment. This is where a runner like Ray Rice can excel. We know that Wilfork, Warren, and Jarvis Green can tighten up the middle and Jerod Mayo can clean it up. What will be key will be whether the outside linebackers can shut down the perimeter runs. The secondary, namely the safeties, also have to play disciplined and not bite on the play action if the Ravens get the running game going.
Statistical Wild Card That Could Decide a Close Game.
The Ravens rank 5th in the NFL in total penalties (115), and FIRST in penalty yards (1,094). In Week 4, the Ravens were flagged for 9 penalties totaling 85 yards, including key roughing-the-passer penalties. Two weeks ago against the Steelers, the Ravens penalized themselves into a loss. They were flagged 11 times for 113 yards, including one that negated a touchdown in a what ended up being a 3-point game. If the Ravens get some calls they don’t agree with and/or start becoming generally frustrated, we’ve seen their penalties increase. Don’t discount this factor in what is likely to be a close game.
More to come this week! Go Pats!