Battle Plans: Ravens vs. Patriots
1) Control the clock: In last year’s playoff domination of the New England Patriots, the Ravens were able to hog the ball and control the time of possession battle.
The same formula for success would have to apply this Sunday. In particular, the Ravens will have to find a way to move the chains on the ground. This would call for the offensive line to get movement at the point of attack.
The biggest obstacle will be nose guard Vince Wilfork. The Patriots main space eater is tough to root out. The Ravens will have to get him moving at an angle and run away from him.
The other key will be to find a way to get a hat on the inside backers. If the line is able to get to the second level, they will be able to spring some big gains.
2) Double moves: The Patriots will blitz to try and get home against quarterback Joe Flacco. However, if the line and extra blockers are able to coordinate their pass protection, Flacco should be able to crack single coverage opportunities downfield.
Moreover, double move patterns should be in play against the New England corners. If Flacco is able to complete enough underneath passes, the corners will key in and bite up, opening up the chance for receivers to separate off of a second move downfield.
The Ravens should use max protection to pick up the blitz to give Flacco enough time to deliver the pump-and-go route.
3) Influence the pass defenders: With a young secondary, the Patriots have been hit or miss in pass coverage situations this season. They are an aggressive group that can be manipulated by the quarterback’s movement.
This is a game in which Flacco will need to use his ball handling skills and eyes to draw the safeties and corners off of their landmarks. Once a defender commits to one side of the field, he should be actively looking for his second, third, and fourth options off of the backside.
1) Press coverage: Tom Brady is as good at getting rid of the ball quickly as any quarterback in the league. He simply does not hold the ball that long and makes sure to deliver the ball off of his timed drops.
The only way to disrupt his rhythm would be to jam the receivers at the line. If the Ravens are able to stalemate the receivers before they release into their routes, even for a second, Brady’s timing will be off. The defensive backs will have to play aggressively and find a way to frustrate Brady.
2) Defend the screen game: Arguably, no team uses the screen game as well as New England does. Brady does a nice job of anticipating when he wants to hit a quick bubble screen, and the New England blockers are excellent in space.
The Baltimore defenders have to be sharp in their reads of the screen game. If they don’t anticipate well, the receivers, led by Wes Welker, will eat up yards after the catch.
Specifically, it will be up to the corners to get off of blocks and sell out when they see a receiver catch the ball underneath.
3) Contain the slot receivers: Between Welker, tight end Aaron Hernandez, and receiver Julian Edelman, the Patriots have some tough slot receivers who can present matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
Hernandez may be the toughest receiver to defend among the group. He is big enough to outmaneuver corners and quicker than most safeties and linebackers.
The Ravens may need to use two defenders to track Hernandez. A linebacker or safety would trail the tight end underneath with deep help from a safety if he takes the route up the seam. With Hernandez, it will be important that the right defender is on him at all times. If he flexes out wide, a linebacker cannot move with him and match up with him downfield.
In general, the linebackers and safeties will have to keep pace and constrict the inside passing lanes.
One on One Matchup to Watch
Matt Birk vs. Vince Wilfork: This is the most pivotal battle of the game. If Birk is not able to contain Wilfork, the Ravens will find it impossible to run the ball successfully. Birk is not as quick as he once was, but he is a solid technician. Wilfork is a force and when he is on top of his game, he owns the middle.