Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wildcard Weekend, Episode II

Patriots vs. Ravens:

If you ask some people, they'll say that this match-up is going to be controlled by the loss of Wes Welker. I'm not one of them. I love Welker and everything he brings to the Pats. That being said, New England will be surprisingly adept at playing without him. How, you ask?

The Pats are going to change what they're trying to do in a broader sense. Edelman will be able to give them about 75% of what Edelman would have, except that they're going to throw less to that position. Playing the Ravens creates a little bit of an odd match to start, as the Ravens have tended to be a tough defense to run on. You'll hear a lot about how tough the Ravens are to run the ball against and there will be some ranks and stats tossed out there. But when you look at the game breakdowns for the Ravens, they're a team that gave up some pretty big yardage totals to good teams and really shut down the run games of bad teams and good teams who don't run well (like San Diego and Indy). Teams like Minnesota and Cincinnati ran it right down Baltimore's throats. So don't think that you can't run on these guys. Granted, if New England wins, they'll run a heck of a lot more in the upcoming game(s).

The other reason teams didn't run it a ton is because the corners for the Ravens are pretty mediocre and give up big plays. Foxworth gets beat in coverage like it's his job, and outside of Ed Reed there isn;t much back there. My guess is that the Pats will try to establish the run and then work some play action off of that, likely a few deep throws to Moss. If the Pats get Moss isolated on a single Baltimore corner, mark it up for 6. Brady's going to be spreading the ball around, so I don't think any one receiver will have huge numbers. Moss will get his 100 yards and TD, but otherwise look for about 6 receivers to have 30 yards.

Baltimore will oppose this by trying to force 3rd and long situations and bring pressure with Suggs. New England knows they're going to need to help the tackles against him and as a result, I don't see Watson or Baker having huge games like some people are suggesting.

On the other side of the ball, the number one issue is whether Flacco can have a big game. My guess is that the Pats will absolutely focus on Rice, and limit his damage. They'll do this by playing a lot of men close to the line and they'll be helped enormously by the return of Wilfork and Warren. That being said, it's going to create opportunities for the Baltimore wideouts and Heap to make plays agaisnt single coverage. The matchups of Leigh Bodden & Springs vs. Derek Mason and Clayton are going to be huge, and likely will swing the game dramatically. I'm guessing those 2 corners will do a pretty good job and prevent them from making catches consistently. The other factor is the pass rush, and Tully Banta Cain should be able to make a play or 2 around the outside--he's the best rusher they have and is fast enough to turn the corner on the left tackle Gaither.

In summary, I think the Pats pull this one out. They've traditionally played well at home, and Baltimore hasn't shown itself to be a team ready to make big plays when it matters. I don't like their receivers or corners, and I think Belichick is going to be creative in bringing pressure on Flacco to get him on the move, where he's far less effective. New England will be able to grind out enough rush yardage to create opportunities downfield. I also expect an increase in the use of Faulk in the screen game to help slow the pass rush down.

The Call: Pats, 24-17.

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