The Baltimore Ravens play their fourth road game in six weeks of the 2010 NFL regular season and travel for another tough road game, this time in Foxborough, Massachusetts against the New England Patriots. Last time the Ravens were here, they scored on the first play of the Wild Card playoff game on a Ray Rice 83 yard scamper en route to a surprisingly easy 33-14 victory.
They also came oh so close earlier in the 2009 regular season, ending that game after being unable to get a first down deep in Patriots territory with mere seconds left on the clock. However, this time, most people are thinking that while New England is a tough team and Foxborough is a tough place to win at, the Ravens have the better team right now. Patriots fans will disagree and today both teams get to settle it on the field. This might be a revenge game for New England, but both teams have reloaded in different ways for this match-up. The Patriots jettisoned their top offensive threat in WR Randy Moss and now look to dink-and-dunk their way down the field on short passes to their little, quick and sure-handed wideouts.
At the same time, the Ravens have significantly upgraded their passing attack and still have that same three-headed monster rushing attack that pounded the Patriots last time these two teams met. So, what will be the difference in this game and who will emerge victorious and become one of the leaders in the AFC races?
Statistically, the Patriots rank 11thoverall on offense, with the Ravens 19th, yet New England is averaging over 32 points per game, over two TD'smore than Baltimore (18 points/game). Passing the ball looks surprisingly even, with the Pats 15th and the Ravens 18th, while the Pats rushing attack is ranked 13th and the Ravens is ranked right behind them in 14th position.
Defensively is where the gap widens between these two teams. The Ravens ranked third overall in the league, allowing just over 250 yards a game while the Patriots are 29th overall, allowing almost 400 yards a game to their opponent's offense, which translates into allowing 24 points a game, almost 10 points per game more than the Ravens defense allows.
Against opponent's passing attacks, the Ravens are the second most stingiest defense, only allowing a bit over 150 yards per contest, while New England is giving up 270 yards a game, good only for 28th best in the NFL. Baltimore's run defense, which limited the Denver Broncos to 35 yards last week is 10th in the league, allowing a little over 100 yards per game while the Patriots run defense is ranked 20th, giving up 112 yards to opposing runners.
The significant difference in defenses is where the outcome of this game will be based. Baltimore has already proven in this young 2010 season that they can go on the road into tough environments and win, as evidenced by victories at both the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the tougher teams in the league, both with defenses significantly better than New England's.
While the Ravens passing offense is greatly improved, expect them to try to do the exactsame thing as they did last time and run the ball down New England's throats, pounding the rock until the defense of the Pats wilts, bends and then breaks. If New England tries to stack the box with eight defenders, Ravens QB Joe Flacco will exploit the weak secondary through the more than capable hands of veterans Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and others.
The Patriots boast those fast little receivers and some quality rookie tight ends, but that big play threat just doesn't exist anymore, meaning that long drives will have to happen and that falls right into the Ravens hands as they just do not give up points nor yards to sustain that need of New England's.
In summary, while the games are definitely not played on paper, the Ravens have it all over the Patriots statistically, but going on the road is still tough and New England is 7-0 off a Bye week in the last seven years and has now had two full weeks to prepare for the Ravens. The Ravens are a very tough team to prepare for, as there really is no way to replicate their fast, big, and hard hitting defense who will pound the softer Patriots all day long and wear them down in the end.
Expect big days all around on offense for Baltimore and while Tom Brady will get his stats, the points will be hard to come by for New England, while the Ravens will rack them up against what will surprisingly be one of the weaker defenses they have faced all season. While I'm not trying to say this game is a mismatch and will be an easy victory for Baltimore, it should be an easier time than they had in either New York (New Jersey?) or Pittsburgh and a lot easier than Patriots fans will have expected or wanted to see since the last time the Ravens visited.