Though Calvin Johnson finished Monday's 18-16 Ravens win with six catches for 98 yards, it was widely considered that Jimmy Smith, as well as Baltimore's secondary, handled the NFL's best receiver.
And I'd agree with that notion, with the addendum that the Ravens were aided by two crucial drops early on where Johnson broke free. But all in all, the Ravens did a great job taking Johnson out of the Lions' game-plan.
This week, however, brings a different challenge.
The Patriots aren't the same group that terrorized opponents with Wes Welker (now in Denver), Rob Gronkowski (on injured reserve), Aaron Hernandez (incarcerated) and, to a lesser degree, Brandon Lloyd (free agent).
It's a makeshift group of receivers, with one constant. And that's Tom Brady — one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, who is also someone Ravens fans love to loathe.
Granted that Brady had Gronkowski for 3.5 of the past five games, the three-time Super Bowl winner has averaged 358.6 passing yards over that span. With Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman as his top two targets, Brady threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns in last week's loss to Miami.
So even with the changes in offensive personnel, Brady has managed to put up some gaudy numbers in recent weeks.
The Patriots' offense doesn't necessarily need big-time receivers to move the ball efficiently. It's predicated on timing patterns and tempo. New England hasn't been able to run the uptempo style that's preferred due to the personnel issues, but has proven it can still give defenses fits.
Against the Lions, a lot of the responsibility fell on Smith being aggressive with Johnson. On Sunday, the secondary as a unit will need to be in constant communication with each other. Smith will likely stick to one side of the field with Lardarius Webb in the nickel spot and Corey Graham split out wide. The DBs will need to continue being aggressive to throw off Brady's timing.
The Ravens' defense held the Patriots to 13 points with the loaded offensive case it had in the AFC Championship a season ago. With those names gone, the Ravens still have a challenge in defending the system. But it's one they'll be ready for come Sunday afternoon.
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