Ravens-Patriots: Week Four Matchup Could Set Tone For Remainder of 2009
As I sit here, fasting on a rainy Yom Kippur afternoon, waiting until night to eat for the first time in 24 hours, I can't keep my mind off Week Four's Game of the Week.
Next Sunday, the 3-0 Baltimore Ravens travel north to face the 2-1 New England Patriots. Had it not been for a dumb decision by Buffalo's special teams and Tom Brady being Tom Brady in Week One, the Patriots would be 1-2 for the first time in recent memory.
Speaking of dumb decisions and Tom Brady, let's recall the Patriots most recent encounter with the Ravens.
In 2007, on Monday Night Football, the Ravens nearly beat the Patriots. After a fourth down defensive stand, it looked like the Patriots' perfect record of 16-0 would have to be 15-1. But defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had called a timeout before the play, and the down was played again.
Tom Brady, of course, mustered up his magic and led the Patriots down field for the win.
Now, Rex Ryan has gotten even with the Patriots after his Jets beat them in Week Two, but the Ravens haven't. They now get their chance.
Despite being labeled an underdog with a 3-0 record, and No. 1 slot in various Power Rankings, the Ravens present the Pats with a great test.
But now, we are asking ourselves a question we have never thought we'd ask ourselves: Can the Patriots' defense handle the Ravens offense?
Also, can the Ravens' defense handle Tom Brady?
Say what you want about his performance so far, but Brady is still Brady. He may not be as great as before, but he's better than mostly everyone. He's still a top-10 QB.
The only reason why I haven't mentioned the running game of the Patriots, is because they are playing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have the No. 1 ranked rush defense in the league, as they have yet to allow a 100 yard rusher in 37 games, and that trend will continue.
The only runner who looks like he can break the streak is Adrian Peterson, and he may not even be able to do it.
The pass defense of the Ravens has been pretty porous so far, as they didn't really show up until they played the lowly Browns offense. But forcing four turnovers and no touchdowns is still impressive, no matter who you face.
Fortunately, neither of them are 6-foot-6, the average height of the San Diego Charger's receivers. (If you recall, the Ravens cornerbacks got mauled by Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, and Antonio Gates, all of them abnormally large.)
Randy Moss can catch just about anything that comes his way, whether he is using one hand or two.
But Wes Welker can be just as effective as a difference maker. Luckily for the Pats' opponents, he has missed his team's last two games. Jon Gruden put it perfectly on MNF in Week One when he said Welker "built his house on the quick screen pass."
But the Ravens boast the league's fastest cornerbacks in Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington. Although small, their speed makes up for their size, (except when they are facing super sized receivers like the Chargers'). Dawan Landry and Ed Reed lurk deeper in the secondary, having recorded two and one interceptions, respectively.
A little like the Ravens' defense, the Patriots' 'D' has taken a step back.
Adalius Thomas has yet to find the success he had in Baltimore, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison have retired, and Jerod Mayo is injured.
Meanwhile, the front seven of the Ravens remains loaded with Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Jarrett Johnson and Tavares Goodden.
So can the Patriots defense handle the new found offense of the Ravens?
Joe Flacco has doubters and skeptics eating their words, throwing for 839 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 101.4 passer rating, compared to Tom Brady's 79.9 rating.
Brady has only been sacked once though, and the offensive line provided enough punch to allow Fred Taylor to run all over the Falcons in Week Three. Flacco has eaten dirt only three times, and the offensive line is anchored by Jared Gaither, the biggest man in the league, four time Pro Bowler Matt Birk, and rookie Michael Oher, who ran a 5.3 40 yard-dash time at the combine.
Running the ball for the Ravens are Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, who both have nearly identical stats except in the touchdown column. McGahee leads the league in rushing touchdowns and Ray Rice found the end-zone for the first time in his career last Sunday.
I'd also like to give a shout-out to Keyshawn Johnson, who gave Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington, Mark Clayton and Todd Heap, motivation to make him look like a fool.
The ESPN analyst called out the Baltimore pass-catchers and, in response, Mason leads the team in receptions with 12 catches for 196 yards, followed by Washington, with 12 receptions for 167 yards.
Both have receiving touchdowns along with Mark Clayton and Willis McGahee. Todd Heap leads the team with two touchdowns caught.
But stats don't amount to much other than moral victories. The real victories tend to go to the team with the most heart. That is something that can't be predicted, and something that we'll have to wait to see next Sunday.
Both these teams are top five in the league, and are going to bring the heat against each other in a matchup that will find itself on highlight reels across the nation.
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