What to Look For…

Sunday’s game against the Ravens presents a huge challenge for the New England Patriots.  A challenge that could give us fans a great sense of where our team stands, in terms of stacking up against the best competition.  Before the season started, I picked the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  The way that they have played so far this season, I am very confident in my prediction.  I look forward to seeing if the Patriots are legitimate contenders to go deep into the playoffs, or if 2010 is looking like 2009 all over again.  Here are some things to look for while you watch the game:

-How can I not start this post by mentioning Randy Moss?  I love when the Pats get national media coverage, but this whole Moss situation is getting a bit over analyzed.  If I have to hear Trey Wingo ask Mark “I think I’m the greatest offensive lineman of all time because I blocked for John Elway” Schlereth if the Patriots’ offense is better without Randy Moss one more time, I might lose my mind.  We get it guys, you don’t want to talk about Favre any more than we want to hear you talk about it, but that doesn’t mean talk about the Pats for 25 minutes.  Let’s be rational for a minute.  There is not shot that the loss of arguably the greatest downfield receiver of all time makes your offense better.  But, the beauty of having one of the greatest head coaches of all time on the sidelines is that, as an offense, you can adapt.  I’m very interested to see how much extra coverage is now shifted towards Wes Welker.  What to look for: How the offense evolves and operates in the post-Randy Moss era.

-In last season’s playoff game the Ravens torched the Pats for 234 yards on the ground.  New England has no shot to even compete in this game if they give up over 230 yards on the ground again.  But, I’m not as worried about the run game as I am about their passing attack.  I think that coach Belichick still has a bad taste in his mouth about that playoff game last season, so stopping the run looks to be priority number one.  The real question is who is going to stop Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Derrick Mason?  As I’ve stated many, many times, I love what McCourty brings to the table.  The kid is big and physical in both the pass and run game, and he can run with the best of them.  But, as physical as McCourty is, he is no match for Boldin.  Boldin is the most physical receiver in the game, by far.  What to look for: How the young secondary of the Patriots matches up against the physical passing attack of the Ravens.

-Two weeks ago against the Dolphins, the Patriots’ offensive line showed their first signs of pass protection issues.  The Dolphins racked up three sacks on Brady.  The same Dolphins team that is tied for 18th in the league with only 9 sacks so far on the season.  If there is one thing that we can all be certain of come Sunday is that the Ravens are going to bring pressure, and lots of it.  Whether it is Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, a cornerback, safety, who knows maybe even Harbaugh will try to get in on the action, they are going to be blitzing like crazy.  I’ve been notoriously tough on Matt Light.  This is Light’s week to shine.  It’s not a stereotypical matchup with a guy like Dwight Freeney, where he puts his hand in the dirt and you know he is coming every play.  Light (and Vollmer on the other side) is going to have to adjust on the fly.  Guys will be showing the blitz and then dropping back.  They will be playing that crazy defense where everyone just walks around the line prior to the snap, when it is then determined who will blitz.  It’s going to be crucial for the Patriots’ success for the offensive line to play well.  What to look for: How the Patriots offensive line withstands the pressure that the Ravens’ defense will bring against the pass.

-My two favorite players in the NFL are Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis, hands down.  I’m a middle linebacker at heart.  I’ve played the position, I’ve studied the position, I respect the position, and I love the position.  Lewis and Willis are two of the fiercest competitors and meanest guys in the league.  Those two will not hesitate to send a receiver or running back into the hospital for a few nights with a bone crushing hit.  What often gets over looked with those two, especially Ray Lewis, is how intelligent they are on the field.  Watching Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning go shot for shot switching offensive plays and defensive coverages is a highlight for me every season.  The same holds true when the Ravens and Patriots face off.  Tom Brady calls out the “mike” (strong side linebacker) on every single play.  Expect Ray Lewis to counter those calls with blitz adjustments and switching coverage schemes.  What to look for: The pre-play mental battle between Tom Brady and Ray Lewis, and who ultimately gets the edge.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION: Ravens 24 – Patriots 20

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