The absence of star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is on injured reserve following back surgery, will have a dramatic effect on the Ravens and Patriots battle plans for Monday night. When on the field, Gronk is almost uncover-able, and draws attention away from the Patriots other offensive weapons. The Ravens inside linebackers and safeties are much better positioned to contain Tom Brady without his go-to receiver.
Neither offense should have much success running the ball in this contest. The Patriots are currently favored by a touchdown, but the game will likely remain close throughout. Expect both teams to execute methodical drives, with a focus on the short to intermediate passes. Whichever team is able to stay ahead of the chains and maximize scoring chances should earn the victory.
LT Ronnie Stanley vs DEs Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers
Entering the home stretch of his first regular season, Stanley turned in his best performance since Week 2 against Miami last Sunday. Still, Stanley is ranked as the 49th best tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus, and is prone to allowing pressure against physically strong pass rushers.
Sheard and Flowers have combined for 7.5 sacks in 2016. Sheard provided a quarterback hit and three passes defensed against Jared Goff of the Rams in Week 13. Protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside will be crucial, he was extremely accurate and productive when given time in the pocket last week.
WR Julian Edelman vs CB Jerraud Powers
With outside corners Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young capable of erasing receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan, Edelman against Powers is the Patriots best matchup in the passing game.
Powers has been decent in coverage, and the shifty Edelman has lost a half step as a 30-year-old. But Edelman has averaged nearly eight catches per game over their last six contests, with two scores. This one-on-one matchup will be critical on third downs and in the red zone.
WR Steve Smith vs CB Logan Ryan
Expect Bill Belicheck to employ a game plan that takes away downfield plays to Mike Wallace and Breshard Perriman with top cover corner Malcom Butler in coverage and free safety Devin McCourty over the top. The result should be an uptick in targets for Steve Smith when marked by Logan Ryan in the slot.
Seahawks slot receiver Doug Baldwin torched the Patriots for three scores in Week 10. Senior has been held in check the last two weeks, but he did haul in a touchdown the last time the Ravens traveled to Foxboro in the 2014 playoffs.
LG Joe Thuney vs DL Brent Urban and Michael Pierce
The rookie guard was beaten regularly against the Rams last week, allowing three quarterback hurries and five tackles when run blocking. With Tom Brady’s quick release and pocket presence, pressure in his face is the best way to disrupt his timing.
Urban played less than 20 percent of all defensive snaps last week, but still made an impact and should have an opportunity to rush Brady when the Ravens line up with their nickel personnel. Finally healthy, Brent is proficient at using his 6’7” height to bat down passes at the line. Pierce has been excellent for an undrafted rookie, with five tackles for a loss, five quarterback hits and two sacks, while playing a third of the Ravens defensive snaps this season.