This game has been circled in Baltimore since the schedule was released. Primetime in Foxboro will surely be a challenge. Ed Hochuli and his officiating crew are on duty tonight, they will hopefully ensure a fair game without any special treatment for the media darling Patriots.
The Ravens play well in Primetime under John Harbaugh, and have won four of their last five games on Monday Night Football. Baltimore has faced several explosive offenses this season. They have carried the league’s number one ranked defense into December for a reason. They are solid group by all measurements, and proficient at generating takeaways.
Both of New England’s losses this season have come at home to teams that play aggressive defense. The absence of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots biggest difference maker and arguably their best overall player, provides a clear opportunity for the Ravens to engineer an upset victory.
1. The NFL competition committee will consider a rule change after this game
Both John Harbaugh and Bill Belichick are prone to using trickery and deception to their advantage. Belichick has been know to call on wideout passes and to play games with eligible receivers using unbalanced lines. Harbaugh will definitely attempt to outfox Belicheck after the eligible receiver maneuver the Patriots pulled in the 2014 playoffs.
The Ravens coaches are known to hold back some creative wrinkles they devise for important games. Harbaugh often leans on his special teams for fake punts, fake field goal attempts and his now patented punter scramble. Both teams are aggressive in attempting fourth down conversions.
This game could easily end in controversy.
2. Ravens defense will hold Blount, White and Lewis combined below 100 total yards from scrimmage
The three-headed running back committee of LaGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White are the motor that keeps New England’s top-four offense rolling. Since Lewis returned from injury in Week 11, the trio has averaged more than 180 rushing and receiving yards combined per game. However the Ravens have been one of the stingiest defenses against running backs in 2016.
Fielding a pair of speedy, instinctive inside linebackers who patrol sideline-to-sideline, C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr, Baltimore has rediscovered their gang tackling ways of the past. Big nose tackle Brandon Williams is among the best in the league at tacking on double teams, allowing other defenders to swarm to the ball on rushing plays.
The coaches will likely use a variety of zone coverages against New England. This decision will often force dump off passes, and enable the defenders to come up and tackle their backs short of the sticks. Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins was more efficient than most rushers have been against the Ravens front last week. That should serve as a wakeup call, they will certainly be focused against the Patriots.
3. Joe Flacco will outplay Tom Brady
Ever since Dean Pees settled in Baltimore, after serving under Belichick for six seasons, Brady has been rather pedestrian against the Ravens. While the Patriots are 4-2 against the Ravens since 2010, Brady’s passing touchdown to interception ratio is 7-to-7 and he has averaged a quarterback rating below 80.
Pees knows how to rattle Brady, and this season he has the personnel at his disposal to call an effective game plan against New England’s versatile scheme. Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb are disciplined, veteran safeties with 18 years of combined experience. Rookie corner Tavon Young has the agility necessary to mark the Patriots slippery receivers, while Jimmy Smith is one of the better boundary corners in the NFL. The defense also boasts a capable rotation of edge rushers and interior pocket collapsers, led by Terrell Suggs and Timmy Jernigan.
On the other sideline, Joe Flacco has always thrived when the Ravens employ an up-tempo gameplan and set up the run with the pass, a formula they are expected to use tonight. In eight career contests against New England, four each in the regular and postseason, Flacco has thrown 16 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions, producing a quarterback rating above 90. Throughout his career, Flacco has played his best football in primetime.