After a not-so-dominating performance last week in the win against the Houston Texans, the Baltimore Ravens have reached the point of no return. For this older squad, high in confidence but slowly waning in speed and skill, the Ravens have almost reached the precipice once again.
During the 2000 season the Ravens, led by Ray Lewis in his prime, won the Super Bowl with dominating defense and a power running attack. If they’re to replicate that seasons’ success this year they’ll have to ramp up their defense against an unstoppable offense led by one of the best signal callers the game has ever known, Tom Brady.
The record setting Patriots offense that led them to a near undefeated season (only losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl) three years ago is gone. This new offense is something the NFL has never seen; two athletic tight ends that chew up the middle of any defense up and open up the rest of the field for other weapons. Tom Brady is a three time Super Bowl Champ, with him running the show this Patriots offense has never been more dangerous.
This Ravens defense isn’t that 2000 squad that reminded people of the ’85 Bears, they’re not dominant every possession; they can’t take the game over. Still, they have two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Lewis and Ed Reed, and another two top tier players in their primes in Terrelle Suggs and Haloti Ngata; if they’re going to win another one this is their best shot.
So it all comes down to this: The Ravens D and Ray Lewis, in what could possibly turn out to be his curtain call, going up against the Patriots offensive machine.
Five Things To Watch
Joe Flacco vs Ed Reed vs The Media vs The Patriots D: Ed Reed calling out Joe Flacco for being “rattled” against the Texans became a massive story this week. Flacco brushed off his teammates’ comments saying he found it funny, but it’s true. Flacco was sacked five times against Houston and missed easy throws throughout the game. Some may question Reed’s timing on the comments but someone needed to say it. Flacco needs to play better for the Ravens to stand a chance. Against the Patriots last-ranked defense he should have opportunities to silence the doubters.
The Guy’s in the Middle: Vince Wilfork, the Patriots nose tackle/defense tackle is widely regarded as one of, if not the best defensive tackle in the game. Haloti Ngata for the Ravens is right there with him. The Patriots defense gives up massive yardage in the secondary but Wilfork has held his own in the trenches all season. Ngata again had a monster year in the middle for the birds. His ability to both stop the run and penetrate the backfield changes the game and makes it easier on Baltimore’s linebackers. Whichever guy has the more disruptive game will play a huge factor.
Stop the Gronk: Rob Gronkowski had a record year at tight end for the Pats with 90 receptions for 1327 yards and 17 touchdowns! Those are numbers never seen from the tight end position. No defense has been able to stop him since he entered the league last year. The Ravens have Reed at saftey who should shadow Gronk wherever he goes, but he’s proven he can beat safeties all day long. So how do the Ravens stop him?
Even if they somehow stop Gronk (unlikely) the Ravens still have the other athletic tight end to worry about. Aaron Hernandez had 79 receptions for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns as well. This two headed tight end attack took the league by storm this season and has not been stopped. If the Ravens can’t figure out a way to stop these two playmakers it’ll be game over.
Farwell Tour?: Ray Lewis has been the best at his position for 16 NFL seasons. He’s won every conceivable award a linebacker can win and he’s done it the right way. Rumors are circling that if the Ravens reach the Super Bowl Ray could elect to hang up his cleats. If this is the last we see of Ray expect to see an all-world effort from him on Sunday. He’s sick of reaching the playoffs and having nothing to show for it in the end. If he’s walking away it’ll be on his terms. Watch him fly around the field one more time.
Ravens pass rush vs Tom Brady: This will ultimately decide the game. Brady had another spectacular year under center for the Pats. He too has won every conceivable award but it seems to me three Super Bowls isn’t enough for Tom. He’s hungry and mad and out for vengeance in these playoffs. Just watching him tear apart the Bronco’s defense would make any defensive back quiver.
The Ravens need to get pressure on Brady, if they don’t he’ll pick them apart. Terrelle Suggs is the only great pass rusher the Ravens have. His numbers this year (14 sacks, 70 tackles, 2 INT’s) were great, but he faded some down the stretch and into the playoffs. Suggs needs to have a huge game (multiple sacks/pressures) to keep Brady uncomfortable and to give the Ravens secondary a chance.
The Ravens surprised people this season. They loaded up in the off season to beat the Steelers and that’s just what they did. They won the AFC North and had the second leading rusher in the league in Ray Rice. They’ve got a talented, albeit old, defense and an offense that can move the ball. Alas, something is missing from this bunch. All season they’ve been good…not great. Not once while covering this team have I thought they were Super Bowl caliber. Against Tom Brady in Foxboro will prove to be too much for the Ravens as they’ll fall short once again and questions will begin to lurk about major changes needed in the off season.
Prediction: Patriots 35 – Ravens 24
**If for some ungodly reason you use my article to weigh your betting options (I strongly advise against that) please keep in mind: Every time I’ve bet against the Ravens this year, they’ve won the game.**
About the Author
Written by Frank Sullivan
Frank is a graduate of Old Dominion University, sports fan, author, and founder of TheBloosh.com. He's been working with prosportsblogging.com since April 2011, and has covered the Chicago Bulls, Baltimore Ravens, Virginia Tech Hokies Football, and the Washington Wizards. Frank can be reached @franksullivan on twitter.