Even though the stakes aren’t nearly as high, Ravens fans are looking to tonight’s contest against New England as a chance for a little bit of revenge for last season’s AFC Championship loss.
As the Ravens prepare for one of their toughest tests this season, here are six things you should look for. Grab a few Boh’s and let’s get started.
Replacing Torrey Smith
The Ravens will be playing with a heavy heart tonight as Torrey Smith announced via Twitter that he has lost one of his young brothers, Tevin. Smith raised his siblings as a preteen while his mother was out working multiple jobs.
John Harbaugh has announced that he is leaving it up to Torrey, but chances are that Smith has already left to be with his family and will not play tonight. In a situation like these, “family first” is often preached and Smith’s teammates will play this game in his honor.
Not having Smith on the field is a big loss for the Ravens, but this is just a football game – some things are more important.
Our deepest condolences go out to Smith and his entire family.
If Torrey is indeed out, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones will be the starting wideouts, and Tandon Doss will likely be the third, based on what we’ve seen through the first two games. LaQuan Williams may see his first action of the season after being deactivated against Cincy and Philly.
Vince Wilfolk Vs. Ravens Offensive Line
Just like Haloti Ngata, Wilfork is one of the most dangerous defensive linemen in the NFL. He doesn’t let his large belly get in the way of his speed and Wilfork will definitely test the younger members of the offensive line in addition to the aging Matt Birk. Wilfork was nothing short of dominant in the AFC Championship game. It will be interesting to see what the Ravens have planned to try to neutralize him this time around.
The Patriots have switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base front since last year, but getting several hats on Wilfork should still be a priority. One weapon that the Ravens could use to slow the big man down is their fast-paced “sugar huddle” attack.
How Big Will Joe Flacco’s Pocket Be?
Matt Birk has struggled a bit so far this season, but the Ravens don’t have anyone better to use at the moment. Glenn Younes, on the Russell Street Report spreecast, pointed out that Joe Flacco’s pocket has been shrinking because Birk is back-pedaling frequently.
Birk will have his hands full with Wilfork and some of the Patriots’ newest defensive studs, Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones, will put plenty of pressure on the Ravens tackles and help further shrink Flacco’s pocket.
It will be imperative for Joe to get the ball out quickly, and for the game plan to include some deception to try to negate the New England pass rush.
Are the Ravens safeties in the Patriots’ heads?
Tom Brady had “Find 20 (Ed Reed) on every play” written on his wristband during the AFC Championship game. That’s a tremendous amount of respect from one future hall of fame player to another, and goes to show that Reed is always on Brady’s mind when he goes up against the Ravens.
If Brady doesn’t throw to Reed’s side of the field, he’ll have no choice but to target Bernard “Patriot Killer” Pollard instead.
Fans in New England are very familiar with Pollard as he was the player who caused two ACL tears (Brady and Welker) to Pats in the past, and even gave Rob Gronkowski a high ankle sprain last season.
Pollard inflicts pain on the Patriots and Brady is all too familiar with it. He won’t shy away from targeting Pollard’s side of the field but this is one story line that you’ll hear plenty more of in Boston than you would in Baltimore.
Aside from causing injuries, Pollard was hands down one of the Ravens’ top performers on defense through the seasons first five quarters or so before leaving the Philadelphia game in the second quarter. If he continues his high level of play upon returning to the field tonight, it will go a long way to helping the Ravens tame the New England offense and pull out a win.
Can the Ravens convert on third down to keep Brady on the sideline?
Through the first two games, the Ravens are a dismal 30% on third down conversions, ranking 25th in the NFL.
More glaringly, they have yet to convert a single third down attempt of three yards or less.
That is an absolutely confounding statistic given the number of weapons this offense possesses. From the two stud tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, to the electric Ray Rice and bruising Vonta Leach, and great possession receiver like Anquan Boldin, there is absolutely no reason that this team isn’t regularly converting on third-and-short.
The problem – as usual – is play calling. If Cam Cameron keeps insisting on emptying the backfield on third and short, running the same short sideline routes, and allowing defenses to completely disregard the run game, the numbers will not get any better.
Continued failure on third down tonight will only hand the Patriots that many more possessions – not a recipe for success.
As Tony Lombardi said this morning – run the damn ball, Cam.
Will Wes Welker reemerge?
Through two games, Wes Welker’s use in the New England offense has confounded Pats fans and fantasy football players alike. The diminutive wideout, who has caught over 100 passes in four of his five seasons in New England (he averaged 7.6 receptions per game in 2011), has only eight catches for 109 yards this season.
With tight end Aaron Hernandez sidelined with an ankle injury, many are predicting that this is the week Welker again becomes a focal point of Tom Brady’s passing attack.
The Ravens held Welker to 53 yards on six catches in January, and Lardarius Webb has the quick feet and ball skills to match up very well with him in the slot.
After getting torched in Philadelphia, the Baltimore secondary will be looking to reassert themselves by making a statement in tonight’s nationally televised game. Despite his mediocre numbers so far, stopping Welker and forcing Brady to look elsewhere may be just the key to redemption for last week – and last year, for that matter.