Patriots, Ravens May Be Lined Up for Offensive Role Reversals in AFC Showdown


Patriots, Ravens May Be Lined Up for Offensive Role Reversals in AFC ShowdownThe Patriots and the Ravens will play on Sunday night in one of the biggest games in the infancy of this NFL season.

One team, we'll call them Team A, will likely try to push the tempo, run some no-huddle and maybe even look to stretch the field, take the top of the defense and do every other cliche for throwing the football. In short, they might be looking to pass — and pass a lot.

The other club, Team B, might look to establish the running game early and often in an attempt to slow the game down some, and call on its defense to make some big plays.

In years past, the Patriots were Team A and the Ravens were Team B. This Sunday, however, there's a possibility we could be looking at things the other way around.

Both teams enter the primetime tilt with some uncertainty on the offensive side of the football. For the Patriots, the reunion of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady's bunch hasn't been as seamless as many figured it would be. New England has struggled at times offensively, especially in a Week 2 loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals.

The loss of Aaron Hernandez early last Sunday didn't help matters much, and McDaniels and Co. will need to find a way to remedy that this week and in the coming weeks. They brought in Kellen Winslow Jr. this week, and he'll try to be some version of Hernandez in the absence of the real thing.

This, of course, takes away one more option for Brady, who hasn't been all that Brady-like this season. Of course, "un-Brady-like, or whatever you want to describe it as, is still pretty good for most NFL quarterbacks. However, No. 12 has looked skittish at times, and his trademark pinpoint control has abandoned him at least in the early going.

You can probably blame a good portion of that on a questionable offensive line. Brian Waters doesn't appear to be on his way north any time soon, and that leaves New England with holes on the O-line — like Donald Thomas at right guard.

Tom Brady is good, but no matter what Patriots fans may want to believe, he needs some help, too.

So what do the Patriots do this Sunday? Maybe they look to establish the run again, like they did so effectively in Week 1. Stevan Ridley had a coming out party of sorts in the season debut against the Titans, showing up Chris Johnson, while carving the Tennessee defense up for 125  yards on 21 carries.

The idea of an efficient rushing attack with a shaky offensive line may seem counterintuitive, but the Patriots have shown early on that they can pave the way for the running game. Rob Gronkowski, with all of his pass-catching capabilities, is a tremendous run blocker. Julian Edelman has shown in his increased role an ability to run block as well. Basically, you can shake some things up and get creative with run calls if need be.

Attempting to run against the Ravens may seem like a fruitless effort, but they've shown through an admittedly small sample size this season that they're susceptible to the run. Baltimore, who ranked second in run defense in 2011, is in the middle of the pack this season, having allowed 258 rushing yards in two games. That's good for 13th in the league. 

They may be ripe for the picking, too. This isn't your older brother's Ravens defense, at least not yet. The loss of Terrell Suggs — who may be the best defensive player on this planet — cannot be overstated. He makes everyone's job easier, and the pressure he can put on a quarterback is paramount. The Ravens also lost Jarret Johnson to free agency, and linebacker Paul Kruger is battling a back injury. Their absence may not be as profound as Suggs', but it's just another one of the adjustments the Ravens have had to make and continue to make.

"That's all adjustment," linebacker and defensive freak Ray Lewis told reporters earlier this week. "That's all adding this person, adding that person, fixing this, fixing that, this person goes down, that person goes down, lose a Paul Kruger after not having a Terrell Sugs. Moving a lot of people around and a lot of different communication things really have to pick up as you go farther in the season."

Will the Ravens eventually rise to the top of the league when it comes to defense? Yeah, maybe. It's probably not advisable to bet against Ray Lewis. But for now, they're not the defensive unit we've come to expect.

They're also not the same offensive team, either. The Ravens have opened some eyes on the national stage already this season. Joe Flacco and the rest of the Baltimore offense exploded in Week 1 against the Bengals. The Ravens, who have been all about the grounding and pounding in the past, moved the ball effectively through the air in Week 1. 

That's probably going to be a good thing this week, too. The Patriots have been one of the most impressive rushing defenses thus far, highlighted by their Week 1 performance where they held Johnson to just four yards in steamrolling the Titans. The Ravens do have Ray Rice, but there's been an inexplicable reluctance to give him the ball through two weeks. He has just 26 carries thus far, a curious total given his 6.4 yards per carry.

Conversely, Flacco has attempted 71 passes through two games. Heck, he's even completed 43 passes, meaning he has 17 more completions than Rice has carries. What does it all mean? Maybe nothing, but it least gives you an indication of where the Ravens are as an offense.

Come Sunday, though, the Patriots and Ravens will renew their rivalry. Just don't be surprised if it looks a little bit different than Ravens-Patriots games of the past.

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