Blog: Tough Task Against A Tough Ravens D

Without Aaron Hernandez, Josh McDaniels has a huge challenge to put the Patriots offense in position to score against a solid Ravens defense writes Patriots Insider contributor LoVell Parkman.

This week the New England Patriots travel to Baltimore to meet the Ravens in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game won by the Patriots. Both teams enter this game having last lost week with identical records of 1-1.

The Patriots lost to the Cardinals when kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42 yard field goal with only seconds remaining on the clock. Baltimore has an even better defense than the Cardinals, fast and physical lead by future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.

The Patriots offense had their problems with Arizona's talented defense so expect more of the same when they meet Sunday night. Through two games this season the Ravens are third in offense averaging 33.5 points per game while New England is thirteenth in offense averaging 26 points per game. The eye opener is that the St. Louis Rams who use to employ current Patriot Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels in the same capacity are ahead of the Patriots in this category. The Rams are eleventh in the NFL on offense averaging 27 points per game.   

Looking back at what the Rams did under McDaniels last year will make Patriots fans wonder if bringing him back to the Patriots was a good choice. The Rams under McDaniels ranked last in the NFL on offense. That's right last averaging 12.1 points a game.  

Sure a point can be made that McDaniels knew the Patriots personnel and offense. However it should be asked how much did he really know the players? None of the Patriots running backs or tight ends played under McDaniels. At wide receiver Wes Welker did and Brandon Lloyd (in St. Louis). When Aaron Hernandez left the game with an ankle injury the Patriots looked very un-Patriot like. Head coach Bill Belichick is known to prepare the team for all sort of in game situations however the Patriots looked very much unprepared for this.

There is a growing opinion that McDaniels is really poor at making in game adjustments, a theory that I fully subscribe to if not the founding father of. During McDaniels last tenure with New England I noted several times the lack of adjustments.  Arizona played great defense and the Patriots offensive line was many times truly "offensive" during the game however the offensive play calling seem to favor the Cardinals more than the Patriots.

Baltimore will be a much tougher challenge this week. Kevin Kolb is no Joe Flacco and the Cardinals do not employ a running back the caliber of Ray Rice. As mentioned before the Ravens defense is better and the team overall has not forgotten about last year's AFC Championship game loss to New England. They would like nothing better for New England to leave Baltimore 1-2. Most importantly they would own the first tie breaker in the quest for the playoffs a head to head win.  

In what will be the key match-up of the game, the Patriots offensive line verses the Ravens defensive line, the Ravens have to be favored in this department. The game against Tennessee didn't show were the line was as a unit, however the Cardinals not only showed what they were they exposed them. The Ravens defense have to be salivating at the prospect of dominating the as of now weak offensive line of the Patriots.

Patriots' running back Stephen Ridley has run the ball well so far this year and this will be his toughest challenge to date. It is not expected that the Patriots will dominate with the running game. Expect the Ravens to be very stingy in giving up yards via the run. They are more polished and more physical than the Patriots offensive line.

Tom Brady will be counted on to make plays for the offense, score points and keep the Ravens' offense off the field. If Brady doesn't have time to pass, the Patriots offense will be in for a long evening. If the trend continues from pre-season to now, Brady won't have very long at all. Players like Donald Thomas who has struggled mightily (and that may be an understatement) this season and Marcus Cannon will have to have their best game of the season just to slow the Ravens down. And even them that might not be enough. Baltimore is sixth in defense giving up 18.5 points a game.

If Brady is rushed and throws the ball up for grabs look for Raven safety Ed Reed to take advantage of that. The Patriots offense must avoid turnovers and giving the Ravens any type of short field. Hernandez will not be available for up to six weeks with an ankle injury so the Patriots signed pass catching tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. How much he will be able to contribute Sunday will be determined on the type of playing shape he is in and how much of the playbook he can learn this week.

The way the Patriot offense seemed dependant on having a second tight end threat and the suddenly reduced playing time of the best slot receiver in the league Wes Welker, Winslow had better be prepared to do everything he can to learn the playbook before Sunday. Yes, sleep is overrated. Perhaps the Patriots realize this therefore resigning wide receiver Deion Branch.

The strength of New England surprisingly is the defense that will be counted on the slow the Ravens offense down and keep Flacco on the sidelines. The Patriots defense is actually ranked higher than the Ravens defense. New England is ranked fourth in the NFL giving up 16.5 points a game. Lead by Wilfork and significant contribution from the first year players, Jones, Hightower and Wilson the Patriots defense has surely stepped up this season.  The Ravens offense will be their stiffest test to date. This will truly show where the defense is at as Flacco is the best quarterback by far that they have faced this season. The physical condition of the defense may be tested if Brady and company start going three and outs and Baltimore go to the hurry up offense not allowing substitutions to be made.

In the history of this rivalry Baltimore has beaten the Patriots only once and never during the regular season. There are very good reasons for going with Baltimore this week. Here's why I'm not. The Patriots rarely lose two games in a row. When is the last time you saw a New England team under a record under .500 at the first quarter of the season? The Ravens have the physical talent to win, but what has cost them in the past is the mental make-up of the team. A dumb penalty, then an even dumber personal foul penalty, they have had mental breakdowns against New England. If the game is close that may flare up again.

Whatever is happening behind the scenes that is not being told to the public with Welker and the Patriots may be buried this week. New England needs to play their best players. There is a hope that McDaniels initial game plan may mask the weakness of the offensive line. It may be a half before the Ravens make McDaniels do something he is not good at making adjustments and Belichick will do everything he can not to leave the game in the hands of  Gostkowski. This is a must win for the Patriots this week more so than the Ravens. My prediction: Patriots 24 Ravens 23.

Follow LóVell Parkman via twitter @show_1, or in the forums (aka Morpheus11): Patriots Message Boards

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