Remember when the Ravens would play the Patriots and there was this feeling that no matter what Baltimore did, New England was going to win the game? I sure do.
Do Ravens fans still feel the same way? I sure don’t.
The Steelers will always be the Ravens’ biggest rival. But these days the Patriots are the team the Ravens have had to go through to get where they want to go.
Over the last five years, Baltimore versus New England has been like Baltimore versus Pittsburgh, but with bigger stakes. The dislike is there. The close scores are there. The thrilling conclusions are there. But recently, this game has been the game for the Ravens.
Especially since 2011, it’s been, “Beat the Patriots, and you’re going to the Super Bowl.”
Now currently two games behind the Patriots, the Ravens have a real chance to usurp them and become the AFC’s second seed.
Obviously the Ravens need to win to maintain their postseason eligibility, but winning on Sunday also means they hinder their top competitor in the process. Oddsmakers lean towards the Ravens. Stay current on updated NFL news and odds here.
Five keys to the Ravens beating the Patriots on Sunday.
1. Feature a run-heavy game plan
The Patriots are used to the number 31, mostly because they’ve drafted at or around that number often over the last decade. However, they’re currently ranked 31st in rush defense, as they allow an average of 133 yards per game.
Furthermore, considering Joe Flacco’s injured knee and Tom Brady on the opposite sideline, this is the perfect time for the Ravens to run early and often.
2. Collapse the pocket
Tom Brady may be on the Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks when he’s finished playing. A collapsed pocket is something he’s dealt with many times.
Something he hasn’t dealt with many times is an average offensive line. New England ranks 17th in sacks allowed (37). That’s a far cry from when they used to be so good, Brady would stand still in the pocket, knees locked, because he had so much time to read the defense.
Besides, with the strength of their passing game being quick, lateral routes, Brady won’t have many deep drops anyway, limiting the time the Ravens defenders have to get to him.
Collapsing the pocket and getting hands up in the passing lanes can, as we saw on Monday night, create plenty of confusion for (and turnovers by) the offense.
3. Gang tackle their running backs
New England’s running backs aren’t especially elusive, but they are tough. They know Brady can almost snap his fingers and throw for 300 yards, so they’re able to run all the more intently, not having to worry about getting fatigued.
Their leading rusher, Stevan Ridley, has lost four fumbles and is averaging just 13 carries for 54 yards per game this season.
If you’re going up against players who turn the ball over often, it would be a mistake to not go after their weakness.
4. Give Tucker the day off
How much more does Justin Tucker need to do to earn a day off?
Of course I’m kidding. What I mean is that the Ravens should give him the day off by scoring touchdowns instead of field goals.
In three of the last four games, Tucker has made at least four field goals. Let’s not kid ourselves; you’re not going to win many games in the postseason on field goals alone.
The Ravens need to get better in the red zone, and do so quickly. End of story.
5. Make big plays
We all remember Torrey Smith’s performance in Week 3 of last year’s game against the Patriots. His six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns fueled the Ravens to a memorable 31-30 win.
In three games against New England (playoffs included), Smith has caught 13 passes for 278 yards (21.4 average) and three touchdowns.
Ray Rice is no slouch against the Pats, either. In his six games against New England, Rice is averaging 123 yards from scrimmage to go along with four touchdowns.
The Ravens are ripe for an offensive outburst. They have the personnel to do it and are facing a team that has lost three defensive starters for the season.
The time is now.