BST&N Week 6 Preview: Patriots vs. Ravens

Ray Rice walking off the field in Baltimore's January Wild Card victory.

I don’t need to remind any of you of the shellacking that the Ravens put on the Patriots in January. The Ravens came to Gillette and dominated the Pats in every aspect of the game en route to a Wild Card round victory.

Sunday is a chance for the Patriots to rebound from the bitter defeat and put their mark on this season, while erasing the forgettable playoff loss.

The Ravens enter Gillette arguably the best team in the NFL. They are 4-1 and have beaten the Jets (the Patriots’ only loss) and the Steelers (noticeably missing Ben Roethlisberger), who are on many of the top 5 NFL power rankings.

This game will go a long way in defining what type of team the 2010 Patriots are. It goes without saying that the Patriots will be looked at with a fine tooth comb the rest of the way because of coach Bill Belichick’s decision to play the season with out Randy Moss. Not to mention, the toughest part of the team’s schedule is ahead of them.

Let’s see what it will take for the Patriots to potentially get their fifth win of the season:

  1. Stop the run. The Ravens play smash mouth, ball control football. In January’s playoff loss the tallied up 234 rushing yards. Ray Rice is the focal point of this Ravens offensive attack and the Patriots will need to hone in on #27. He is an imposing threat in the passing game too, so the team needs to be ready to stop the former Rutgers star. Willis McGahee has also been sprinkled into the action early in the season and he provides the running game with a bruising finish. Of course, stacking the box to stop the run makes the Patriots susceptible in their vulnerable secondary. Bill Belichick will certainly have to be crafty in devising this week’s scheme.
  2. Pass the ball. The Ravens rank second in the NFL in pass defense. Couple that with the loss of the offense’s passing focal point Randy Moss, Tom Brady will really have to be on his game Sunday. The Ravens have a historically energized and motivated defense and the Patriots will need to give Tom Brady the protection that he needs to effectively move the ball through the air this week. Without a pass game, the Patriots will be hard pressed to give the Ravens much of a fight.
  3. Pressure Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ biggest problem this season has arguably been the play of third year QB Joe Flacco. He has posted a 5/6 TD/INT ratio to date and the additions of Anquan Bolin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and a pair of rookie tight ends have not yet paid immediate dividends. New England is an NFL worst in opponents completion percentage (69.1%), and with a plethora of weapons at his disposal the Patriots really need to force Flacco to pass when he is not ready to.

This is the game of the week in the NFL. The winner walks away a lot more confident in their position in the battlefield that is the AFC.

Let’s hope the bye week did the Patriots well. If history is any help to this years team then the team should feel good; the Pats are 6-0 in the last six seasons coming off the bye week.

Predictions: Patriots 31 Ravens 30