Keys To The Game
In what looks to be a giant sized mismatch, may be a game that turns out to be a lot closer than the point spread indicates. The Patriots have the receiving corps to attack virtually any defense in the league, but these are the Baltimore Ravens. The same team that has used it's defense to win games, get itself into the playoffs and even win a Super Bowl.
Stop The Blitz (Protect Brady)- The Patriots tackles have struggled at times at the tackle position. Speed rushers have been able to burn Nick Kaczur to get pressure on Tom Brady. Last week Philadelphia Eagles lineman Juqua Thomas beat Kaczur to flatten Brady. Then Chris Gocong got pressure. A few weeks prior to that, it was Robert Mathis who beat Kaczur. Matt Light also hasn't been perfect against the blitz, but he's been more consistent. If the Patriots can absorb the blitz the Ravens are sure to employ - in an effort to mimic the Eagles success last week - then New England should have less difficulty protecting Brady. With more time to throw, the Patriots are built to win the war in the passing game.
Pressure Kyle Boller - No quarterback does well under severe pressure, but some start to fall apart under the impression that severe pressure is being applied. Boller is the type of quarterback who hasn't handled pressure well, and New England knows it. Boller has started just five games this year, and of those he performed well when he had the pressure necessary, almost pulling out a win against the Browns in a shoot-out. Boller will need to pass on Monday night, and if he has time, he may just have the right makeup to find success.
Work The Ground Game - The Ravens have Willis McGahee to run the ball. McGahee knows New England from his days as a member of the Buffalo Bills. If he can run at all, then it will give more legitimacy to Boller's playaction pass. The Patriots were susceptible to a good playaction, and have given up big chunks of yardage on the ground. While the Eagles only managed 53 yards on the ground last week, it was more about the Eagles ability to shred the Patriots' secondary over the middle. If McGahee can gain 4 yards per carry, then the Ravens will have more manageable third downs and improve their chances to sustain drives, something they'll need to do to keep Brady and crew off the field.
Everything centers on the Ravens' defense. It's one of the only reasons the team has been competitive this season. While the Ravens offense has found it's grooves at times, they'll need to step it up on Monday night. Baltimore can't rely on Matt Stover's leg to keep the team in the game as field goals probably won't be enough to keep pace with the Patriots scoring machine.
Win The Battle On The Line - If the Ravens want to have any chance on offense OR defense, they'll have to win the battle up front. In this case, it's offense that will be key for Baltimore. If the Raven's can't protect Kyle Boller in pass protection, or can't open holes for McGahee, then it won't matter what the defense does. The Ravens sport the 25th ranked offense, while the Patriots have the 3rd best defense in the league.
Prevent The Big Play - If Baltimore wants to stay in the game, they'll have to find a way to keep the wraps on Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. New England has averaged nearly 1 play per game over 40 yards, with 3 over 20. Even though that's less than 5 percent of their total plays on offense, it's enough to be game changers.
Win the Turnover Battle - If Baltimore can force some turnovers against New England it may be enough to give their offense the boost it needs to put points on the board. Baltimore hasn't' had long sustained drives like New England has done, so field position for the Ravens is that much more critical. A fumble or interception return could go a long way to keep the game competitive for the Ravens defense to do what it does best - apply pressure. The Ravens enter the game with a -11 ratio while New England enters the game at +16.