Behind Enemy Lines: Pats - Ravens Pt 1

In this two-part series we ask Ravens Insider Jason Butt to let us know more about a few hot topics: Is Ray Lewis that good, or ... Are the Ravens over the AFCC game ... Who are some key players to keep an eye on... Not an insider? Try the FREE PASS

Q:   All NFL Fans hear about when Baltimore is on TV is Ray Lewis this and Ray Lewis that. Is the Ravens succes due to Lewis, or are there guys we don't hear about who make the plays that Lewis gets credit for?

Jason Butt:  Lewis is a leader for sure, but the success isn't fully attributed to him by any means. The two best players on this defense right now are Lardarius Webb and Haloti Ngata. Webb's one of the NFL's best all-purpose corners. He's fundamentally sound as a tackler and can play both outside and nickel corner. In the nickel package, he plays the slot so he can be disguised as defending a receiver, blitzing the quarterback, or playing the run. With Ngata, you have an explosive defensive tackle who can generate a pass rush through a double team. It's rare to find a defensive tackle who can take on double teams and win. With all that said, Lewis is by far the smartest defender in terms of his football IQ. Lewis helps place everyone in position to be able to make plays. It's an extension of a defensive coordinator on the field.

Q:  Ed Reed had a bit of an offseason rift with the team.  Has that been patched up, and how much longer do you think he'll play?

JB: There was never much of a concern locally whether Reed would return or not. The biggest issue will be if he returns next year. His contract is up and the Ravens still have to pay Joe Flacco a long-term deal. Reed has a great relationship with the players and John Harbaugh, but the front office has a business decision to make. I can think of one coach in Foxborough, Mass. who would be happy with signing Reed if Baltimore lets him test free agency.

Q:  Has Joe Flacco done enough to silence his critics, or is the level of criticism being aimed at him justified?

JB: Flacco will always have his critics until he wins a Super Bowl. I think that's the way it's going to be for first round quarterbacks from now on in today's 24/7 social media world. Look at Eli Manning. He won a Super Bowl prior to last year and the question of whether he was elite or not was still ongoing. Now with two Super Bowls, it doesn't seem to be a debate. Flacco's accomplished a lot through four years -- 44 regular season wins, a 5-4 playoff record, two AFC Championship appearances. But folks that dislike Flacco will hang around as long as he doesn't take the Ravens to a Super Bowl, or better yet, win it.

Q:  What are of the Ravens team is most suspect part of the roster, and how do teams typically try to attack it?

JB: On offense, Philadelphia did a good job of playing Cover 1, jamming the receivers at the line and loading eight in the box. If you take away Ray Rice and the running game, then you're leaving the DBs and LBs in coverage in man. The only ones who showed good separation last week were TE Dennis Pitta and WR Jacoby Jones. I expect New England to play physical against the Ravens WRs to alter the timing between them and Flacco.

Q:  Who are the lesser known playmakers on the Ravens' roster that could have a big day against the Patriots (and why)

JB: Albert McClellan has emerged as the defense's best linebacker in run support without Terrell Suggs in the lineup. He does a good job setting the edge to contain running backs inside. If he keeps Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen (if he's available) inside then the run defense should have a decent day. On offense, JaCoby Jones is technically the third WR on the roster but he may be the best deep threat right now. With so much attention going to Torrey Smith, Jones should get a lot of one-on-one situations. He's been off to a decent start so far.

Q: Is the Ravens' loss in the AFC Championship game still an issue with the team?  Are they using it as a motivator?

JB: Publicly, they won't say that. But to the guys who were on that team last year, I'd have to think it is. Why wouldn't it be? The Ravens had many chances to win that game but fell short when given the opportunity.

I think the Ravens will have a hard time slowing down the Patriots' offense, in that I don't think the linebackers will be able to cover the underneath routes Tom Brady likes to throw. Rob Gronkowski is a mismatch nightmare and I'd have to assume Wes Welker gets in the rotation more this week with Aaron Hernandez out. For Baltimore to win, its offense will need to match New England's, which is easier said than done, despite the slow start to the season.
Patriots 31, Ravens 28

Check out Part Two where Patriots Insider Jon Scott answers questions for Ravens readers.

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