Ravens - Patriots: Inside Slant

<b>When the Ravens have the football:</b> Without star running back Jamal Lewis, expect the Ravens to scale down their running game for a controlled passing game.<br><br> Chester Taylor, Lewis' replacement, is much better at hitting angles and testing the perimeter of defenses than trying to bull ahead up the middle. Against the Patriots' vaunted 3-4 set populated by bulk, experience and talent, the Ravens will be forced to entrust a major portion of the game plan to quarterback Kyle Boller.

That's not such a bad option nowadays. Boller has had an above-average month mixed with moments where it looks like he's really beginning to understand the game. There's an outside shot that he'll get Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap (ankle) back today.

Boller is likely to dump the football off short to Taylor, tight ends Daniel Wilcox and Darnell Dinkins and try intermediate throws to receivers Travis Taylor, Clarence Moore and Kevin Johnson. The Patriots have problems in the secondary, and are so banged-up that receiver Troy Brown will play some cornerback again. Baltimore will likely test out the Patriots deep, especially to create some breathing room for Chester Taylor.

Key matchup: C Casey Rabach vs. NGs Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork

Rabach will be at an extreme sign disadvantage against two hefty, explosive defensive linemen who outweigh him by roughly 50 pounds.

He'll have to use his superior footwork and agility to gain an edge, along with relying on double-team assistance from guards Edwin Mulitalo and Bennie Anderson.

How the Ravens can win

1. Use suspect Patriots cornerbacks Earthwind Moreland and Randall Gay for target practice downfield, taking advantage of the absence of starters Ty Law and Tyrone Poole. That situation dovetails well with quarterback Kyle Boller's recent improvement.

2. Be selective defensively with risk management when it comes to blitzing Tom Brady and loading the line of scrimmage to tackle Corey Dillon. The Patriots are a truly balanced offense, with a legitimate deep threat in Deion Branch. Brady recognizes overloads and will find the uncovered receiver if he has sufficient time.

3. Create field position for kicker Matt Stover through return specialist B.J. Sams.


When the Patriots have the football:  Expect offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to try to establish running back Corey Dillon early in an effort to keep Baltimore from flooding its secondary with extra people.

Dillon is a bruising runner who seems to get stronger as the game goes on if he's heavily involved. He has given Baltimore some trouble in the past when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback Tom Brady usually can be counted on to make the right decision and distribute the football adeptly. He'll be heavily cognizant of safety Ed Reed's game-changing presence and will likely be extra cautious.

Reed has 18 interceptions in 43 career games with three touchdowns and is considered the defensive MVP by New England coach Bill Belichick. In 56 career starts, Brady has led New England to 16-game winning drives to break a tie or take a lead in the fourth quarter or overtime. He has won two Super Bowl trophies, earning game MVP honors both times. At Gillette Stadium, where New England has won its last 16 games and is 20-3 all-time, Brady has thrown just four interceptions in his past 13 home games.

Key matchup: QB Tom Brady vs. S Ed Reed

It's a classic duel between two of the league's best, most consistent performers. Brady is the picture of composure and quarterback cool, reminiscent of a young Joe Montana. Reed is a magnet for the football on a par with a young Rod Woodson.

How the Patriots can win

1. Pressure quarterback Kyle Boller into mistakes with an aggressive front seven that will have a huge size advantage along the interior line with 340-pound nose guards Keith Traylor and Vince Wilfork.

2. Run Corey Dillon directly at Ray Lewis, a strategy that worked with eye-opening success for the Chiefs' Priest Holmes and the Jets' Curtis Martin. Lewis is much better in lateral pursuit than he is in head-to-head confrontations.

3. Go after cornerbacks Corey Fuller and Ray Walls when they're in the Ravens' base defense, or attack them in the nickel package if starter Chris McAlister (shoulder) is able to play.

Aaron Wilson writes for RavensInsider.COm and the Carroll County Times


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