Patriots-Ravens: Is Feeding Fred Taylor the Ball Key to a New England Feast?

Mike GleasonCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2009

The Patriots face their toughest test of the season next week when they face a Ravens team that finally appears to have put it all together.

Tom Brady, to be frank, has not looked impressive over the past three weeks. He's missed throws, been skittish in the pocket, and got visibly frustrated during last week's win against the Falcons.

His receivers have been mediocre thus far. Joey Galloway has been a disaster. Randy Moss, despite some great catches, hasn't caught a deep pass. Wes Welker's been injured. Julian Edelman, despite doing a fair Welker impersonation, is inconsistentโ€”he'll make a beautiful move on a defender on one play, then drop the ball on the next.

The team's running game, and Fred Taylor in particular, have looked rather good. Taylor rushed for over 100 yards against Atlanta and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this year. When Taylor was rushing well, the offense looked in sync.

Given all these facts, one would conclude that a winning strategy would be to base the offense around Taylor next week.

This conclusion, however, would be wrong.

Consider the matchups: Taylor's performance against the Falcons was good, but not dominant. Atlanta's defense is ranked 24th in the league against the run so far this year.

Too small a sample size? Look at last year, when they finished 25th against the run.

Defending the run has been an Achilles' heel for this Falcons team, and the Patriots were able to take advantage of that.

The Ravens, meanwhile, rank first in the NFL against the run this year, but in the middle of the pack (17th) in terms of pass defense. To be fair, that number is likely skewed by the fact that the Ravens have won their first three games, meaning opponents were more likely to pass in order to catch up.

One thing is clear, though: To focus on the running game would be attacking the Ravens' biggest strengthโ€”hardly a great strategic move.

I think, if Welker returns to the field next week, we'll see a return to the passing mentality that has defined the past few years.

Brady, though his performance has been off, has missed big plays by a matter of inches (and receiver drops). He's actually been less rusty than Patriots fans had any right to expect and, with his favorite target back, he may begin to reclaim his 2007 form.

Also consider that the Ravens run a scheme similar to the one the Jets used to beat the Patriots in Week Two. Given that it now appears that the Patriots must beat the Jets to win the AFC East, getting pass reps against the same defense seems like a good idea.

Yes, it will be important to at least try to establish a running game on Sunday. Passing every down is not a successful strategy, no matter what team is playing. Trying to change the Patriots to a run-first team against the Ravens, though, is not a recipe for success.


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