Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Baltimore Ravens
- QuarterbackThe Patriots may have been struggling to put points on the board in the first half of the season, but they have been a much better offensive team in the second half. Much of this is due to Tom Brady, who is throwing the ball with more accuracy and greater velocity than he did earlier in the year. While the Pats dropped their Week 15 game at Miami, Brady’s presence gives them a shot to win any game.The Ravens control their own playoff destiny after beating the Lions in the Week 15 Monday night game. Joe Flacco is the key to those chances. Flacco tends to come through with his best performances in his biggest games, and this is clearly a game the Ravens want badly. Flacco has not had a dominating year – 18-17 TD-interception ratio – but his team has full confidence in him.
- OffenseThe Patriots suffered a huge blow in their Week 14 victory over the Browns when they lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury. The Pats want to get some productivity out of their running game, and Stevan Ridley is a breakaway threat if he can hold on to the football. Wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are stepping up at the right time of the year.The Ravens will try to attack the Patriots with their running attack. While Ray Rice has been ineffective this season, the Pats rank 30th against the run and are clearly vulnerable. Flacco will be looking for Torrey Smith as his primary receiver. He has made big plays and he can stretch the field. Tight end Dallas Clark is an excellent third-down receiver.
- DefenseThe Patriots have been forced to play without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and those two losses have made them quite vulnerable against the run. Outside linebacker Donta Hightower leads the team with 85 tackles, but defensive end Rob Ninkovich has 80 tackles, 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Chandler Jones leads the team with 11.5 sacks.The Ravens have shown some defensive improvement after a slow start, and when they are at their best they will pressure the quarterback with outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. While both players have lost a step, they are cagey pass rushers who can cause problems for Brady in this game. Daryl Smith is the team’s best tackler and quite underrated.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots had a rare special-teams gaffe in the Week 15 loss to the Dolphins. Stephen Gostkowski gave the Dolphins the field position they needed when his late fourth-quarter kickoff went out of bounds. Gostkowski is normally a major asset. He has made 32-of-35 FG attempts this season.The Ravens are explosive on special teams as Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss have brought returns back for touchdowns. The Ravens cover kickoffs and punts exceptionally well. PK Justin Tucker was 6-of-6 on FG attempts vs. the Lions and has made a remarkable 33 consecutive FG attempts.
These teams have been the standard bearers in the AFC in recent years and they don’t like each other. Look for a high-scoring game that slightly favors the Ravens at home.