NFL Week Three: Patriots @ Ravens

Can Brady, McDaniels and the Patriots start clicking again?

It was embarrassing. It was a choke. It was a trap game. It was exactly what the Patriots could not afford; an injury to stud TE Aaron Hernandez. The silver-lining is such, it was only week two of the 2012 season. The Patriots lost  to the Bills in week three last year — there is time to develop and overcome early season adversity.

Sunday left fans across New England puzzled and searching for answers. What was most underwhelming about the 20-18 loss to the Cardinals was franchise QB Tom Brady. While he made a valiant 4th quarter comeback, Brady was noticeably off. He forced throws, missed open targets and could not convert the usual bread-and-butter two-point try. The new age rival Baltimore Ravens circled this one on the calendar after what happened last January in the AFC Championship game. SNF will provide a clash of two hungry (1-1) teams looking to avenge for last week’s losses.

Check out these three keys to victory for the New England Patriots to break the Baltimore Ravens 10 game home winning streak:

1) Own the line of scrimmage: The number one mission for the Patriots is to dominate up front. There is no debate, the Ravens are the more physical team. Reenergized Ray Lewis lost 25 pounds in the offseason in an effort to stay on the field. Ed Reed decided to give it another year after considering retirement. While perennial DE Terrell Suggs remains on the PUP, DT Haloti Ngata will command extra attention all night.

The offensive line needs to provide Tom Brady with time to throw in the pocket — something they could not create against Arizona. The Cardinals forced 7 Tackles For Loss, 6 QB Hits, 4 Sacks, 4 Pass Deflections and 1 INT. Brady looked uncomfortable and out of sync all afternoon due to a lack of protection.

The Ravens defense plays at an elite level and has been for close to a decade now. One constant to the Patriots success has been their commercial winning offensive line. Besides Mankins, that old regime is out and they remain unproven as a cohesive unit. This will be their toughest challenge yet and it couldn’t come at a more crucial time. If the o-line can win the battle in the trenches and open up space for Brady and Ridley, we have a great chance of stealing a victory in Baltimore.

2) Protect the Football: The Eagles had four turnovers and still defeated the Ravens last week 24-23. Tom Brady threw an interception on his first pass attempt against the Cardinals but that wasn’t the important turnover. Zoltan Mesko had his punt blocked deep in the red zone — a crucial special teams mistake that allowed Arizona to score a touchdown and take the lead.

Eliminating these types of blunders are crucial if the Patriots have any hope of coming out of Baltimore with a victory and turning their season around. Brady has thrown 7 INT in the past three meetings against Ray Lewis and company. Take a look at the graphic our friends over at ESPN Boston put together on the right. If the Patriots can’t throw down the field, Ridley will have to run up it. We currently take Ridley’s ball security this season for granted and it should not be undermined.

McDaniels seemed to lay out a tight and conservative game plan against the Cardinals. The Ravens are known for their aggressive schemes and defensive packages, giving the Patriots the opportunity to hit a few home-runs if Brady makes adjustments on the fly. Expect to see McDaniels keeping Baltimore guessing. As we witnessed last week, one play cannot justify a loss. It is a collection of moments that the Patriots did not seize and execute. Look for Brady to hit a bunch of hot reads underneath in hopes of decoding the Ravens pass rush.

3) Score Touchdowns: When did the Patriots register their first touchdown last week? When they absolutely positively needed it to have any chance of wining. The Patriots played 57 minutes 54 seconds of football before punching it in the end zone with 2:06 left. Odds are not in a team’s favor by scoring one touchdown any given Sunday. Part of the problem was the excessive amounts of penalties New England committed. A few balls will have to bounce the Patriot way to gain a “W’ on Sunday but Belichick says it best “Do your job!”

If New England can execute in all three phases of the game and limit Ray Rice there is a chance. The Patriots failed at seizing that moment last week, can they respond to adversity and prove to the NFL what they are made of? I think so, Patriots win 23-17 in OT.

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