From time to time, I trade questions and answers with the writer of the upcoming Ravens opponent. With this week's game on Monday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens host the New England Patriots. Tom Masse, who writes at Pats Pulpit for the SportsBlogs Nation, was kind enough to go at it with me with his opinions about the prime time game on ESPN Monday night. Check out my answers to his questions by linking to his page. Here are my questions (in bold) and his replies:
Q: Why do you think that former Ravens Adalius Thomas has just not found the same success on the Pats that he enjoyed with the Ravens?
A: I think part of it is a matter of game planning and part is a matter of the rest of the personnel. Bill Belichick and his staff create very specific game plans for every game. Thomas was basically not part of the game plan against Indianapolis for whatever reason. Rule No. 1 on Belichick-coached teams is "Do your job." Some of the game plans defined his role such that he may not have been in position to be the playmaker.
Also, until the recent injury to outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, Thomas has been playing inside more often. I expect he'll move back outside to replace Colvin, and that may change his apparent level of success. Thomas is fifth on the team with 49 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown, so I wouldn't exactly call him unsuccessful.
Q: While I scoff at those who complain that the Pats are running up the scores, do you think that Coach Belichick is risking injury to Tom Brady and others by playing them long after the outcome of the game is no longer in doubt?
A: No, not really. I don't think whether the game is in doubt has any bearing. Sixty minutes is sixty minutes. When the Sunday night game against Philadelphia came down to the final minutes, Brady was still in the game against a blitz-happy defense. Was that less risky than having him in a blowout against Miami when the Patriots offensive line was dominating the Dolphins and Brady's jersey wasn't even grass-stained?
The bottom line is that this is the NFL, and a team has to be prepared to play 60 minutes every week. It doesn't serve the team's purpose to have the starters play three quarters every week and then wonder why they can't play a full four quarters when they need to against better teams. Heck, this "letdown" against Philly came after most of the starters left the Buffalo game after three quarters the previous week. Not exactly a coincidence.
Q: When the schedule came out, all Ravens fans looked to this game as a great matchup. Now that the Ravens are looking at 20+ point underdogs at home on the national TV stage which seems to bring out their worst, what are the local papers and fans saying about the bottom dropping out on the Ravens this season?
A: Ever since talk of the potential to go undefeated began probably around Week 4 (way too early in my opinion), Patriots fans had the Baltimore game circled as one of the likely bumps in the road. Even in my preseason analysis, I put the Ravens game up there with San Diego, Indy, Pittsburgh, Dallas and the Giants as the season's key games.
The more the world has seen of Steve McNair and Kyle Boller, the less people have spoken of the Ravens as a legitimate threat. Baltimore's defense certainly warrants pause (at least they used to), but the offense doesn't frighten anyone these days. So recent talk has surrounded mostly Pittsburgh and the Giants with Baltimore more of an afterthought.
Q: If you were an opposing coach, how would you beat the Patriots?
A: Snipers. Other than that, the plan would be different for every team. Philadelphia's Andy Reid came into Sunday night with a brilliant game plan, and the couple of "trick" plays the Eagles ran, on top of being well executed, were called at the right time. I expect most teams on the Patriots remaining schedule will call some razzle-dazzle.
Reid's "blueprint" won't work for all teams, but some coaches might be able to pull some elements from it, whatever best fits their personnel. I'll be as interested as anyone to see what Brian Billick and his staff design.
Q: Summarize the game and predict the score.
A: I just don't see Baltimore doing much offensively. Kyle Boller hasn't played particularly well, and the Patriots have rarely allowed quarterbacks good games. With Willis McGahee struggling and nursing a hurt ankle, I don't know where the Ravens are going to generate any significant offense.
As good as Baltimore's defense is, they looked tired against San Diego, and New England is going to be looking to rebound from last Sunday's lackluster showing. Still, defense is Baltimore's hope. That and special teams. The Patriots haven't been too shabby there, though, either.
I'll go with my standard prediction: Patriots, 38-14.