Friday, January 08, 2010
These two teams met back in Week 4, in early October. It seems like a whole nother season back then.
The Pats won that game 27-21, thanks to some turnovers, and if you ask some of the Ravens, thanks to the officiating as well. But both teams had drives extended with roughing-the-passer penalties. Both defenses forced turnovers. Both offenses occasionally figured things out.
The Patriots defense was the star of the Week 4 victory. They made two big 4th down stands in the 4th quarter. The offense struggled in the Red Zone, and couldn't mount that big, game sealing drive at the end.
The game began with a microcosm of what was to come. The Pats kicked off, and Brandon McGowan forced a fumble on the return. An incomplete pass, a negative Maroney run, and a sack forced a field goal.
And that's going to be the key to Sunday's game: the Patriots offense vs. the Ravens defense, in the Red Zone.
The Ravens' defensive reputation is more impressive than their defense actually was this season. Don't get me wrong, they have a tough defense, it's just nowhere near as ferocious as it once was. But they are adept at pressuring Brady. In Week 4, the pressure forced a fumble which was recovered by Baltimore in the Pats' end zone. And although Brady's mindset in the pocket has calmed down since Week 4, his body's been banged up.
Welker is an excellent outlet for Brady when teams pressure him. And he's not there. Brady completed 21 passes in Week 4, 6 of them went to Welker, 8 went to running backs, 2 went to Watson. So look for lots of RB routes.
The Patriots couldn't muster a ground attack in Week 4. They tried. Oh how they did try. 30 attempts, for only 85 yards, or 2.8 per carry. Yet two of their TDs came on the ground. In the Red Zone, look for play action passing and screens from the Patriots.
The Pats defense should hold Baltimore to around 20 points. I'd put 24 as the ceiling. In Week 4, the defense essentially allowed 14 points, as Baltimore's remaining 7 points came via fumble recovery. And preventing those turnovers will be another key element to the Patriots gameplan.
Ball control is paramount for the Patriots, moreso than usual. I don't want to see Laurence Maroney even dress for this game. But the margin for error against this Ravens team will be atypically tight.
I think the Patriots defense can stop Flacco and the Ravens. Sure, they'll get more than 120 on the ground, but that's fine. So long as they're generally kept out of the end zone. But there will be a few drives that they make the Pats' D look foolish.
The Pats' offense in the Red Zone will determine victory or defeat. Sub-40 field goals are a bad thing. Anytime Gostkowski has to kick a 37 yard field goal, it isn't 3 points on the board, it's 4 points off.
I think the Pats force some turnovers, and take advantage of good field position. They've never lost a playoff game in Gillette Stadium, and I doubt temperatures in the 20's will be much of an advantage to Baltimore.
Patriots 24, Ravens 17