Ravens vs. Patriots: 5 Keys to the Game for Baltimore
On Sunday night, Baltimore will host New England in what could very well be a rematch of the AFC Championship game. New England hosted that game in January.
Now, eight months and one day later, Baltimore is poised to even the score in their stadium.
Although it's very early on, this matchup features two teams with even offenses (New England ranked sixth, Baltimore ranked ninth). But what is a startling reversal of recent history, New England's defense (second) is statistically far superior than Baltimore's (27th).
Although Baltimore is at home, favored by Vegas and will be supported by more than 70,000 fired up fans, winning this game will take everything the Ravens have to offer.
Keys to the Game
1. Play Your Game
When playing the Patriots, a lot of teams (or at least their respective fans and media members) think they have to be perfect to beat New England.
While the Patriots are an excellent team, they are beatable. The Ravens don't have to be perfect to beat them. The Ravens need to be themselves. They need to be physical, trust their preparation and feed off their tremendous home-field advantage.
How good has M&T Bank Stadium been to the Ravens? They are 12-0 in their last dozen home games and have won 20 of their last 21 in Baltimore.
2. Get Back to the No-Huddle
In Week 1, the Ravens accumulated 430 yards of total offense. In Week 2, they gained 325 yards of total offense.
While 325 yards isn't an awful number, there was a difference in tempo from the first week to the second. In Week 2, the Ravens seemed to implement the no-huddle offense less than they did in Week 1.
Whether that was part of the Eagles-specific game plan or not, we don't know. But after watching both games, there is no question Baltimore's offense flowed more freely and was more diverse in Week 1 than it was in Week 2.
Especially against the NFL's second-ranked defense, limiting their substitutions and dictating tempo is a must.
Who is the most important player for the Ravens on Sunday?
3. Get Torrey Smith Involved Early
Last week, Torrey Smith had two receptions for 51 yards (including a long reception of 40 yards). For the season, he has only caught four passes for a total of 108 yards.
Smith, his teammates and coaches would all say he's capable of more.
Take the Ravens' last game versus the Patriots for example. In that AFC Championship game, Smith caught three passes for 82 yards and a touchdown (that tied the game at 16-16 with 3:38 remaining in the third quarter).
His speed is undeniable. Make the Patriots defend it.
4. Get to Brady
Baltimore is tied for sixth in the league with six sacks this season. Considering the Ravens are playing without Terrell Suggs for at least the first six weeks and without Paul Kruger last week, that's a good mark.
If you can't sack him, get your hands up and deflect passes. Collapse the pocket. Stunt, twist, blitz. Whatever it takes to knock Brady off of his rhythm is what the Ravens' defensive front needs to do.
Thankfully for Baltimore, Haloti Ngata is the best in the business in doing just that.
5. Limit New England's Yards After the Catch
Yes, Wes Welker only has eight receptions through two games this season. However, since Welker joined the Patriots in 2007, he has led the league in receptions three times (2011, 2009, 2007), finished sixth in 2010 and second in 2008.
In that time, Welker has averaged 111 receptions per year. If you've watched the Patriots' offense, it's partially predicated on short passes to the perimeter, allowing the receiver to run after the catch.
With Brandon Lloyd's deep-play potential, Rob Gronkowski's ability to catch everything thrown his way and considering how the Eagles dominated the Ravens underneath their zones last week, the Ravens defense will need to stifle the Patriots receivers in the open field if they want to keep them off the scoreboard.
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