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1) When the Patriots blitz: The Patriots secondary is an aggressive group. The corners are usually planted on top of the line-of-scrimmage and use their hands to jam receivers before they start their routes. As such, the Patriots feel comfortable blitzing often, from all sides of the field.
In this game, it is paramount that quarterback Kyle Boller not only has free reign to make coverage checks before the snap, but more importantly, he makes the proper checks. Only changing the protection schemes to pick up the extra rushers will not suffice.
When Boller changes the routes, he should try to redirect his receivers to the inside. The Patriots will be more liable to give up passes in the middle as opposed to the edges. To that end, Bollerâ€™s strength is hitting the inside slants, digs and square routes.
2) One back sets: If there is any way to dent the armor of the New England defense, it is going to be through the air. The New England front seven is a stout front and running at it, especially up the gut, is the equivalent of running into a dead end. Not only is the front line tough to move, but also the linebackers are outstanding at attacking downhill.
For this reason, the Ravens must force the Patriot linebackers to play in space. Although the backers are intelligent and technically sound, they lack the foot speed and recovery ability to hold up in coverage on a consistent basis.
One thing the Ravens may be able to do is run the two-tight end set as a variation of the four-wide look. With Daniel Wilcox slated to return to the lineup, and Todd Heap a possible go on Monday night, the Ravens could use both of their pass-catching tight ends in the passing game.
If the duo is not healthy, the Ravens should insert Devard Darling into the lineup as the third wideout on most down.
The Ravens can afford to use less two-back sets, as Willis McGahee is comfortable operating without a fullback in front of him.
3) Quick release: Despite the loss of Rosevelt Colvin for the season, the Patriots will still present one of the Ravensâ€™ toughest blocking tests of the year.
The line failed its exam against the Chargers a week ago. Against New England, it must be a more coordinated outfit.
In addition, Boller must get rid of the ball quickly. He cannot hold the ball until the pocket collapses. Boller has a tendency to wait too long for routes to unfurl down the field. If he sticks to his tendencies, the offense will lose yardage and consistently lose the field position battle.
1) Rush five, drop six: In case you didnâ€™t know, New England likes to pitch the ball around the field. That Tom Brady guy is kind of, sort of, a big deal. He prefers to setup in the gun and pick defenses apart.
The key to his success is being able to exploit favorable one-on-one matchups. When the Patriots spread the field, they run four receivers into pass routes and always keep an extra blocker in to help out Brady. Those four receivers — whether it is a combination of three-wide and one tight or four wideouts — are usually able to win their matchups in time for Brady to deliver them the ball.
There really is no magic formula to stifle this attack. Given that a defense always faces the prospect of covering four receivers when they face the Patriots, it must play nickel coverage. In the Ravensâ€™ case, that means starting nickel back Corey Ivy. Ivy should be adept at tussling with slot man extraordinaire Wes Welker.
Up front, four or five rushers will need to be enough to get to Brady. Rarely will the Ravens be able to afford to bring six rushers and rely on five in the back end to cover the pass.
2) Three ends, one tackle and two backers: One of the reasons that the Eagles did so well in last Sunday nightâ€™s surprise standstill battle with the powerhouse Patriots was due to the solid performance of their backers in coverage. The Eagles actually substituted one of their linebackers in favor of an extra defensive back. The two that were in the game — Takeo Spikes and Omar Gaither — had to either cover tight end Ben Watson or any receiver who sat inside on underneath routes.
The Ravens can and should employ the same type of coverage strategy as Philadelphia used. The difference is that while the Eagles were able to use their regular four-man line to push the pocket, the Ravens will need to tinker with their rotation.
Jarret Johnson should revert back to playing at the defensive end position, taking the spot of Dwan Edwards. And this is the right time to increase Antwan Barnesâ€™ snaps. Aside from Terrell Suggs, Barnes is the only other legitimate speed rusher that the Ravens have. When he has played on third down, he has been effective. In this game, he will need to play more on first and second down in place of Haloti Ngata or Kelly Gregg.
3) Applying the physical blow: Little needs to be written to articulate this point: The Ravensâ€™ defense must smack the Patriots in the mouth every time they touch the ball.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch: Chris McAlister versus Randy Moss: This should easily be the most compelling matchup of the night. Moss has regained his dominant form. He is making as many game-changing plays as he did in his rookie year, when Randall Cunningham was his quarterback, and Brian Billick was his offensive coordinator. McAlister has been excellent when heâ€™s been able to play. For now, McAlister is listed as questionable. But one would think he would relish the chance to face Moss on a national stage.