This week’s Inside Enemy Territory comes from two resources from the Ravens’ side of Sunday’s football contest against the Patriots. First, The Purple Chaos‘ Conoon Kim answered 5 questions about the Patriots/Ravens game Sunday, and then Joe Barnes from Fan Sided’s Ebony Bird chimed in with his responses. There are a couple of common themes running through each of their answers. First, they both feel that stopping Tom Brady and the Pats’ passing attack is essential. Second, they are both confident in a Ravens victory Sunday in Foxborough. Let’s get to the questions and answers. To see my answers to questions posed by Conoon Kim, click here.
1. What is the one thing the Ravens NEED to do to win the game?
Kim: The Ravens definitely have to stop Tom Brady and the passing attack. To do that, they NEED to have an effective pass rush. I had this same opinion last week when the Ravens faced the #1 passing offense in the Broncos. While the Ravens recorded only 1 sack, they were able to get constant pressure on QB Kyle Orton and force him to make bad throws. They need to do that and more against a future Hall of Famer like Brady. No quarterback can play effectively for 60 minutes when there are huge linebackers running full speed at them. Expect a whole lot of blitz packages
Barnes: The Ravens need to establish an early presence in the run game. With a three-headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and fullback/halfback hybrid Le’Ron McClain, the weapons are there, they just need to perform. Rice finally broke out last week, rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Once the running backs start gaining good chunks of yards, Joe Flacco gets comfortable and opposing defenses become wary of the play action.
2. Which player or players are key to a Ravens victory Sunday?
Kim:Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. As I mentioned in my previous answer, the pass rush needs to be effective. Suggs and Ngata are two players to watch out for because they are going to bring the pressure on every play. But not only can they apply pressure, they can also stop the run. Ngata is comparable to a human wall out there. The Patriots offensive line will be in for a long day at work with a huge front like the Ravens playing healthy.
Barnes: The linebackers and corner backs. The Patriots have a solid short passing game, something the Ravens don’t always defend too well. In the two match-ups between these teams last season, Tom Brady completed passes to a combined 11 different players. Aside from Randy Moss, most of those catches were made by running backs or by receivers running quick, sharp routes. If Brady gets in a rhythm with Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, or any of his eighty-five running backs, the Ravens’ defense could get tired and lazy, and become soft. For the Ravens to keep the Pats off the scoreboard, they need to cover tight end effectively.
3. What is one favorable match-up or advantage that you feel the Patriots have over the Ravens, and one favorable match-up or advantage that the Ravens have over the Patriots?
Kim: Ironically, I feel both the Patriots and Ravens have an advantage on offense with their receivers matched up against the opposing defensive backs. We all know that defense is not a strong point for the Patriots, so a trio like Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be difficult to cover. But while the Ravens pass defense is one of the best in the league on paper, it doesn’t necesarily stem from a great secondary. The Ravens have done extremely well without starters like Domonique Foxworth and Ed Reed, but they’re still the weakest link of the defense. Kyle Orton threw over 300 yards last week, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brady take a shot and air it out. The Ravens have to watch out for weapons like Wes Welker, Brandon Tate, and newly acquired Deion Branch.
Barnes: Tom Brady is definitely the X-Factor the Patriots have that will hurt the Ravens. His experience and savvy are unlike any quarterback they’ve seen this year, and his ability to spread the ball around (11 different receivers already this season!) is on par with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Without Domonique Foxworth and Ed Reed in the defensive secondary, Brady will know how to exploit the Ravens’ weaknesses.
On the Ravens’ side of the ball, Derrick Mason will be a big factor. While the Patriots do have a very talented secondary, Mason’s football IQ is off the charts, and he can make an impact on a game without even catching a pass. He knows how to attract double coverage to free up other receivers, he knows how to draw pass interference penalties, and he runs routes better than almost every other receiver in the NFL. While he won’t blow up and catch 8 to 12 passes for 150 yards, keep your eye on him. In most big or important plays, he’s doing something to help the Ravens out.
4. Who is one player that Patriots fans likely don’t know about but will learn about fast on Sunday and why?
Kim: I think outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a Raven who flies under the radar and is one of the most underrated linebackers in the league. Many fans of other teams might not see it, but J.J. makes the defense what they are today. He is easily overshadowed by star players like Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, but J.J. is a consistent beast that never gives up on a play. He’s quick and very decisive; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with a couple sacks or even an interception this weekend. Another guy I’d like to mention is Dannell Ellerbe. He’s just a freak of nature, keep an out for him.
Barnes: Billy Cundiff. I know that Patriots fans love Brandon Tate and what he does in the return game. On Sunday, don’t worry about him doing anything. Cundiff hit six kickoffs last week, and four were touch backs, with two going out the back of the end zone. One of the two that wasn’t a touch back was returned seven yards deep into the end zone, and the other one went to the 2-yard line. Right now, he leads the NFL with 11 touch backs, a 55% touch back percentage, and an astounding average of 72.7 yards on kickoffs. Then, if he doesn’t boot it for a touch back, Cundiff’s kick coverage unit is strong, led by gunners Marcus Smith and David Reed. Unless Tate decides to start his returns deep in the end zone on Sunday, the Patriots’ return game should be a non-factor.
5. Game prediction?
Kim: A struggling Patriots defense will fail to stop the Ravens from scoring. While I see Brady being able to carry his team, he needs to play at a perfect level to put up over 20 points against the Ravens. I just don’t see that happening. The Patriots will put up 14 points, but that won’t be enough to compete with a hot Ravens offense. Final score: 24-14, Ravens.
Barnes: I think the Ravens can take this game, but it will be tough. They need to win the battle for possession, and Joe Flacco needs to settle in and keep his composure in the pocket. The Patriots will make it a great game, though, and I expect Tom Brady to have a minor field day against this Ravens’ secondary, with a ton of completions, and a couple touchdowns. Ravens 24, Patriots 17