'Don't let 'em throw the ball over your head'

OWINGS MILLS -- The blueprint for how to topple the mighty New England Patriots isn't contained within the game film of the Philadelphia Eagles' narrow loss from a week ago, according to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle. As the saying goes, close only counts in activities such as throwing horseshoes or hand grenades.

When asked if the Ravens (4-7) could glean much from how the Eagles pushed the undefeated Patriots (11-0) to the brink leading up to Monday night's game at M&T Bank Stadium, Rolle all but scoffed at the notion.

"Everybody says how well the Eagles played, but the Patriots only punted twice and they scored 31 points," Rolle said. "So did they really play that well? They got some pressure on them, they did some good things, but they still scored 31."

The Ravens are aware that they'll have to devise a particularly intelligent strategy to contain an offense that's averaging 40.2 points and 434.4 yards per contest.

Headlined by quarterback Tom Brady and his 39 touchdown passes along with wide receivers Randy Moss (16 touchdown catches) and Wes Welker (81 receptions), the Patriots seemingly have no weaknesses.

Which gives aggressive Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan all the more reason to ball up his fists and start swinging.

"That's just like a boxer wanting to go against a champion: to see how you measure up against the best," Ryan said. "Ironically, we think of ourselves as the best on defense. Maybe the stats aren't there this year, but that's how we feel about ourselves. So, it should be a great contest.

"It is a great opportunity for us to put ourselves up against the best offense in the league. Hopefully we can knock them down a couple pegs, but it is going to be a great challenge for us. Our guys are going to be a ready for it."

Even though Baltimore ranks fourth in total defense, the Ravens have allowed 30 or more points each of the past two weeks for the first time since 1999 and are in the midst of a five-game losing streak that includes a 38-7 embarrassment against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

To contain the Patriots, the Ravens' ninth-ranked pass defense will need to communicate much better than it did a week ago in a 32-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers where tight end Antonio Gates ran free for two touchdowns on botched coverages.

Failure to generate a pass rush, as the Ravens did with no sacks, no quarterback hits and no turnovers as Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers exploited them for three touchdown passes, could be costly.

The Ravens will have to harass Brady, which is particularly difficult because of his quick release, sound pocket awareness and three standout linemen in left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins and center Dan Koppen.

"They're good, but, at the same time, you have to believe in yourself and challenge them," Rolle said. "Instead of sitting back and saying we're going to give you this and give you that, go and try to make plays.

"You can't just say, 'Okay, they are what they are, we're going to let them move the ball down the field.' You've got to challenge them. I think the only way we can win is if defensively, we put it on our shoulders and try to win this game."

Easier said than done, though.

Especially against Brady, who has passed for 3,439 yards and a league-best 127.9 quarterback rating with only four interceptions. Ten of the Patriots' 11 opponents have surrendered at least three touchdown passes to him this year.

Heady and resilient, there's little that seems to bother Brady or confuse him.

"You just have to constantly change it up," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You give him one thing, something he can anticipate, he's going to make it a long day for you. So, you're not going to give him anything he hasn't seen before, you just have to do it at unexpected times, and make it tough on him to get into that rhythm."

Plus, Moss is an imposing target at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds who leaps over everyone for the football.

There's virtually no solid answers on how to defend Moss other than don't let him get behind you and don't ever relax.

"What can you say?" Ryan said. "He's just an amazing guy. When he's covered, he's open. So, those are the guys that kind of scare you.

"Brady just has great faith in Moss. He thinks the only guy who can catch it is his guy, who's 6-5 or whatever he is, and can jump out of the stadium."

And it would be remiss not to mention Welker, who ranks second in the NFL in receptions.

Welker has seven touchdown catches, also doubling as an effective punt returner.

"Man, he's tough," Ryan said. "He competes his tail off as a blocker. He catches everything. They've got a little magic touch going right now, Brady and him."

Plus, there's viable alternate targets like Donte Stallworth (15.4 yards per reception) and tight end Ben Watson (six touchdown catches).

If Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister doesn't play due to a strained knee, the matchups could become even more problematic.

Rolle would likely draw the unenviable Moss assignment with Corey Ivy checking Welker and young cornerbacks Derrick Martin and David Pittman being forced into duty again after struggling against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Ryan acknowledged that he'll have to liberally use his nickel and dime packages. The Patriots lined up in the shotgun the majority of the time last week and only ran the ball 16 times.

"Like most people, you've got to get that nickel package out there," Ryan said. "It's hard to match up a linebacker on some of their wideouts. A lot of times that opens up the running game for them, and we're encouraging them to try and run the ball on us."

Baltimore remains stout against the run, ranking second in the league with 77.9 yards allowed per contest.

Yet, defending the Patriots usually means doing something unconventional.

"You see a lot of teams play Cover 2 against them, which is generally a good coverage," Ryan said. "But I've seen them get burned on the run and the pass on that. You see teams try to pressure them and they burn you.

"We'll find out. It's tough because if you're trying to copy your defense off of somebody else's, you have to look at that and say, 'Well, nobody's been successful yet, so we probably have to try to do something else. We're going to try to put 12 on the field, I think."

Regardless of whether McAlister plays or not, he has some helpful advice about defending the Patriots' stellar attack.

"Don't let them throw the ball over your head," he said. "Don't give up the big play."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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