The Ravens are set to take on the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium (1:00 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 5th (234.0 ypg) Total Defense – 6th (262.3)
Rush Offense – 17th (108.0) Rush Defense – 10th (88.3)
Pass Offense – 3rd (287.0) Pass Defense – 6th (174.0)
Points Per Game – T16th (20.0) Points Per Game – T7th (16.7)
Sizing Them Up
Under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have built one of America's sports dynasties in this decade, earning three Super Bowl titles in four years.
Much of that has to do with quarterback Tom Brady, who has led the Patriots to six playoff appearances in seven seasons as a starter. Brady is a cool gunslinger that has a big arm and a penchant for making late game-winning drives.
The weapons around him are plentiful. Wideout Randy Moss is a dangerous deep threat, while Wes Welker is an intermediate-range threat. Both players are Pro Bowlers and the main reason why the Patriots rely so heavily on the passing game. After three games this year, New England has run the ball 82 times compared to 142 passing attempts.
A standout offensive line powers the Patriots' rushing attack, in which the most likely ball carrier will be veteran Fred Taylor. Last week, Taylor, who was released this offseason after a long and successful career in Jacksonville, gained 105 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Patriots have seen much turnover. Longtime standouts Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel are gone, leaving former Raven Adalius Thomas as one of the main leaders. Thomas is a versatile player that the Patriots ask a lot of.
New England is banged up on their unit, as well. Inside linebacker Jerod Mayo has missed practices recently because of a knee injury, and standout defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is dealing with a sprained ankle.
What's Up?* *
My counterpart, Erik Scalavino of Patriots.com, writes about new 6-foot-8, 355-pound defensive tackle Terdell Sands.
"Sands confirmed that he'd signed a two-year deal with New England, but he seemed rather confident it wouldn't take him nearly that long to get up to speed with the Pats defense."
Safety Brandon McGowan made the tough trek from Division I-AA to the NFL level, according to Michael Vega of the Boston Globe.
"McGowan's work ethic, his relentless style of play, and his determination to overcome any obstacle helped him endure a painstaking path to Foxborough. It was pockmarked by one painful injury (ankle, last Sept. 19) after another (Achilles' tendon, Nov. 6, 2006) and another (knee, Jan. 10, 2006) that landed him on injured reserve three times during his four seasons with the Chicago Bears, who signed him as a rookie free agent in 2005. He signed with the Patriots in May."
The Rap Sheet, the Boston Herald's Patriots-themed blog, reports that Mayo returned to the practice field and ran around on his knee injury.
"Mayo, who hasn't played since the opener, looked to be wearing a large brace on his right knee, which could vaguely be seen through his sweatpants."
Offensive – Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you will know that Brady holds the keys to this offense. The Patriots got by with former backup Matt Cassel last year, but Brady's many 89 victories in 114 career starts cannot be ignored.
Defensive – Without Mayo, the Patriots need even more from the multi-talented Thomas. He's moved to inside linebacker, and despite only totaling nine tackles so far this year, Thomas has proven he's a defensive leader in New England. Last year, he was second on the team with five sacks despite missing the final seven contests with an arm injury.
WR Julian Edelman
The little-known seventh-round draft pick out of Kent State made a splash early in his career. Starting in place of an injured Welker in Week 2 against the New York Jets, Edelman led all receivers with eight receptions for 98 yards, and added 38 yards on two kickoff returns and 2 yards on a punt return, for a total of 138 all-purpose yards. The 6-foot, 198-pounder is a threat from the slot position.
Ravens LB/DE Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots LT Matt Light
The New York Jets gave other teams in the NFL a blueprint on how to rattle the Patriots, and that is with a steady dose of pressure on the pocket. Suggs will be critical in getting to Brady, but he'll have a tough workday with Light protecting his blind side. Light consistently been one of the NFL's most-reliable offensive tackles in the game.
In their regular-season opener, the Ravens were burnt by the San Diego Chargers' group of tall wide receivers. Moss, at 6-foot-4, is the type of vertical threat that typically gives Baltimore problems. But, Foxworth and Washington looked solid covering Cleveland's Braylon Edwards last week, so perhaps they have fixed the weakness.
Belichick on what type of options Moss presents for the offense:"I mean, I think Randy does everything pretty well. There are really not any limitations with Randy. He's a good blocker, he's smart, he's versatile, he's played all the outside positions – the X, the Z – and the inside positions as well in the slot, in different receiver groups. He can run after the catch, he can run the short and intermediate routes, and he can certainly run the deeper routes. He does a good job against man coverage. He does a good job against zone coverage. He's a big target, he's got good hands, good ball skills, tracks the ball well down the field. So, I don't think there is really any route you call with Randy where you say, 'Well, we don't want to run that route with him.' It's just the opposite that you're pretty comfortable whatever route you ask him to run, that he can do it and he can be effective doing it. So, that gives you a lot of versatility in your offensive system, and we try to capitalize on that."
Thomas on if he's been asked to add more to his plate with Patriots LB Jerod Mayo being out for a couple more weeks:"Not necessarily. I think that, just like I said, it really depends on what it is that we're trying to accomplish that week. Everybody's asked to do different things at different times, so that's just how it falls."
The Ravens do respect what New England has built over the past couple of years.
How can you not when they've nearly got a hand's full of Super Bowl rings just from this decade? In an NFL era with a salary cap and free agency, that is no small feat. And, as if to add to the mystique, the Ravens have never beaten the Patriots in four tries.
But don't tell that to head coach John Harbaugh. The way he sees it, the 2009 version of Ravens/Patriots has nothing to do with the past.
"I didn't even know that," he said about the winless streak. "This team has never played the Patriots, have they?"
It's a good point. This New England squad is much different than the one that even took the title in 2004. All of those defensive players are gone, and the coaching staff has been ravaged over the past few years.
The constants seem to be Belichick and Brady, and with those two, the Patriots will always have a chance to win. Have to respect that.
Now, to beat the championship duo, the Ravens need to knock them both out of a rhythm.
First, that means pressure Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket on his surgically-repaired knee. Second, it means stopping the Patriots on third down to make sure Baltimore's defense is rested and Brady spends more time standing next to Belichick than under center.