Derek Hanson from the Foxboro Blog recently asked us to participate in an exchange of questions regarding this weekend’s contest between the Ravens and Patriots. Even though they talk funny and annunciate “r’s” where they don’t belong and mysteriously ignore them where they do belong, we agreed. If we win, they send up some lobsta…if they win, they get a crab cake at the Inn-ah Ha-bah.
TL: How do the sports media feel about the Randy Moss trade and what do they believe was the rationale?
DH: I think the general consensus among the media and Pats fans is that the Patriots did what they had to do. Both Belichick and Moss have been pretty tight-lipped about what really happened behind the scenes, but given Randy’s track record, one can safely assume that things were on the verge of turning very ugly. The Patriots’ 2009 season was submarined due to issues in the locker room and with their young and impressionable roster, the last thing Belichick wants is a major distraction and bad influence on the team. Don’t get me wrong, the loss of Moss will hurt, but his role in the team’s offense this year wasn’t as important as it was over the last few seasons. I think the Patriots will find ways to adjust without him.
TL: How do the fans feel?
DH: I think most fans agree with what I said in the last question. As far as I can tell, nobody is too broken up about the loss of Moss. We saw the writing on the wall last January when he made his comments that "the Patriots don’t really pay" and that this would likely be his last year in New England. When you have a player on your team like Moss, you know it’s a ticking time bomb. We got three solid seasons from Randy and now it’s time to move on.
TL: How productive can Deion Branch be this week? For the balance of the season?
DH: I don’t see Branch being a huge factor this week. He has some chemistry with Brady, which will help, but I think it will still take some time for him to get fully up to speed. I think the attractive thing about Branch is that he does possess some knowledge of how things work with Belichick and Brady and so he will be able to contribute quicker than your average receiver over the next few weeks.
TL: Will Wes Welker be less effective without Moss?
DH: I think we’ll see less of a focus on Welker now, and more of the "spread it around" type of offense that the Patriots had during their Super Bowl seasons. Welker, Branch, Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, and Danny Woodhead are all quick, scrappy players who are tough to cover and tackle. There’s the potential that all five of them could be flying around the field at one time, which would be a nightmare to cover for any defense. I think Brady’s new favorite receiver is going to be the open one. Welker will still be effective, but may play a larger role in opening up opportunities for other players vs. hauling in 100 catches on his own.
TL: How effective do you expect the rotation of Patriots’ running backs be against the Ravens’ defensive front seven?
DH: The Patriots are still a passing team first and foremost however, they are at their most effective when they can get a decent running game established. Benjarvus Green-Ellis has really turned it on the past few weeks. I certainly don’t think he’ll run all over the Baltimore defense, but I do think that he’ll be able to take a hit and still pick up some yards. He rarely gets stuffed for little or no gain. If he can do that, the Patriots will be in good shape.
TL: Besides Tom Brady, what are the Patriots’ top 3 strengths; weaknesses?
DH: I’d say the team’s biggest strength is Belichick. You can hate on him if you want, but the man has put together winning season after winning season, despite losing top tier players to free agency and injury. When all is said and done, he’ll definitely go down as one of the greatest coaches ever. I think other strengths include their tight end play, which has really turned around their game in the red zone. Last season the Patriots were constantly settling for field goals once they crossed the 20 yard line. This season, thanks to their ability to play big and bang around in the end zone, they’re routinely picking up seven points. As for a third strength, I’d say that this team is fairly young and explosive across the board. They’re quickly turning into a team known for their quickness, big hits, and play-making ability. This was also something sorely lacking last season.
As for weaknesses, I’d say the Achilles heel at the moment is their cornerback play. Devin McCourty has looked strong for a rookie, but he’s still a rookie. Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington have found themselves abused on more than one occasion as well. Two other weaknesses would be their running game and lack of a true #1 back, as well as well as their ability to get a strong pass rush going.
TL: What is the weather forecast and what conditions in your opinion favor the Pats; work against the Pats?
DH: It’s supposed to be sunny and windy in the 60’s. I’m not sure that weather will play much of a roll, but if I could pick the conditions, I’d go with something similar to the torrential rain we saw on Monday night. With the ball being slick, I think that Brady might hold an even bigger edge over Flacco and could tilt the game in New England’s favor.
TL: Does Gisele wear a Brady jersey during games like Jessica Simpson used to do for Romo?
DH: I actually don’t ever recall seeing shots of Gisele or any of Brady’s former girlfriends during the games, so I really wouldn’t know the answer here. My guess is that a #12 jersey isn’t Gisele’s style.
TL: NFL rules state that players whose hair reaches down to their jerseys can legally be tackled by their hair. Do you think the game officials would let the Ravens get away with that one with Shaggy Brady? Should Brady get a haircut? Is it true that windblown hair caused his auto accident?
DH: I’d love to see the Ravens try to go at Brady’s hair. That would almost be guaranteed to be a free 15 yards! In all honesty, I’m starting to feel Brady’s hair. Early on it was very Justin Bieber-ish. I think we’ve now reached the length where he has legitimate long hair like a WWF wrestler and he’s starting to look less like a Swedish speedo model and more like a tough guy.
TL: Finish these sentences…if the Patriots win, they’ll do so because (and outscoring the Ravens is not an acceptable answer)…if they lose it’s because they failed to (and outscoring the Ravens is not an acceptable answer)
DH: If the Patriots win, they’ll do so because Benjarvus Green-Ellis was able to establish some sort of running game and open up the passing attack, and because the defense made some big plays to force turnovers.
If the Patriots lose, it’s because they allowed Brady to fall under pressure and get hit a lot, thus slowing down the passing game, and because the secondary got torn up by the Ravens’ receivers.
TL: What will be the final score?
The Patriots have been scoring 30+ points in every game this season. I think the Ravens will end that trend with their D. My confidence level isn’t overly high here, but I can’t go against a Belichick-coached team coming out of a bye week. I think we’ll see some big plays again on defense and special teams by the Patriots that will determine the game.
DH: What were the main things (positive/negative) you took out of Baltimore’s 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos last week?
TL: The win was a relatively easy one and the outcome was hardly in doubt from the very start. The plusses were multiple headlined by a dominant performance by the offensive line and the inside-the-tackles running of Ray Rice. The Ravens corners also played very well.
On the downside the Ravens’ safeties failed to sufficiently defend the deep ball against Kyle Orton who burned them twice on long tosses to Brandon Lloyd. Also Joe Flacco continues to struggle to get to his second read particularly if his check down receiver (usually Rice) is covered.
DH: How do you think the secondary has played without Ed Reed for the first five games of the season?
TL: The Ravens are ranked second in pass defense and their defensive line has failed to muster much pressure. Put that together and it suggests that the Reed-less secondary has covered well.
DH: Before the Week 2 loss to the Bengals, I heard Bob Holtzman say that Joe Flacco told him that there is not one go-to receiver in this offense? Do you think that has a negative impact on this passing attack or is it something Flacco can develop over the course of the season?
TL: Bob Holtzman is wrong. Anquan Boldin is the go-to-guy and as the season progresses teams will roll coverage towards him and it will open things up for Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Housh’s game winning TD catch in man coverage is a perfect example of how the attention given Boldin, opens things for the other pass catchers.
DH: What do you make of Joe Flacco’s progression over his 3 year career? Do you think he can become an elite QB within the next five years?
TL: I think Joe can be an elite QB within the next 2 years once he gets used to connecting on his second and third reads. There are few better at delivering the ball when that first read is open. When it isn’t, that’s where Flacco struggles. If he improves in that area, he’ll be mentioned in that second tier of signal callers but I doubt that he’ll approach the status of a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees.
DH: As of right now, is this the best team in the AFC? Are they the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year?
TL: Like every NFL team the Ravens are not without flaws. If they don’t improve at getting to the quarterback and if Flacco reverts to turning the ball over the way he did earlier in the season, the Ravens will not go deep into the post season. It isn’t often that a team is minus 6 in turnovers and is 4-1. If they correct that and pressure the passer slightly better, they could be alive in February. That said to label anyone the best now is about as useful as the many power ranking that aren’t worth the server space they occupy on websites throughout the world.
DH: What is your prediction for the Patriots the rest of the season? What are your thoughts on the Randy Moss trade to Minnesota?
TL: I think the Patriots are a year away from making a deep push into the post season. They’ll get there and the experience will bode well for their youthful roster going forward but right now I think there are too many holes in that defense.
As for the Moss trade, I think one could argue that the move suggests that Bill Belichick might agree with my outlook for his team. You can’t say they are better without Moss. Deion Branch is a decent receiver but he’s not Randy Moss. Belichick did the Ravens and all AFC title contenders a favor by trading him away – at least for this season.
DH: How much do you think revenge plays a factor in this game after Baltimore’s 33-14 win at Gillette Stadium last year in the Wild Card playoffs?
TL: Revenge is overrated and sometimes a smart team can use those emotions against an opponent to get them to bite and move them out of their assignments and off landing marks. I have to question a team’s will if they need revenge to play better.
DH: Who wins this game on Sunday and Why?
TL: Oftentimes matchups dictate the outcome. While lesser teams beat up on the Cincinnati Bengals the Ravens struggle against them. For me it’s about winning and losing matchups – individual battles. I think the Patriots are a good matchup for the Ravens. Even when the Ravens have lost in recent years to the Patriots with seemingly far less talent, they’ve been in the mix and a play away from winning. This game will be no different. It will be entertaining but in the end I see the Ravens winning a close game, snapping another streak (as they did in last year’s divisional playoff game) for Belichick and Brady with home regular season wins and wins after a bye.
Ravens 24, Patriots 23