Just a few short weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens looked like just another pushover in a string of bad teams on the New England Patriots’ schedule.
After losing four straight, the Ravens have won four of five post-bye week games with their only loss coming to the Dallas Cowboys. The Ravens are coming off a 38-6 win over the Miami Dolphins in which Joe Flacco threw for 381 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, and running back Kenneth Dixon averaged 9.3 yards per carry.
After seeing the Denver Broncos, the Patriots’ Week 15 opponent, lose to the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens now might be the Patriots’ biggest test before the end of the season.
Here’s how the Patriots can beat the Ravens at Gillette Stadium on Monday night.
DON’T GET BURNED
The Ravens haven’t relied heavily on big plays and pass interference penalties this season, as they’re usually known for, but against a high-powered offense like the Patriots, it wouldn’t be surprising to see quarterback Joe Flacco takes risks with deep passes to speedy outside receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.
The Patriots have allowed just three passing plays of over 40 yards this season, but they could be without cornerback Eric Rowe, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Flacco could look to exploit Justin Coleman or Cyrus Jones early if they’re thrust into action. Safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, who figure to play big roles in Week 14, will need to protect the deep half of the field.
This is the type of game where the Patriots likely will keep McCourty and Harmon back deep and potentially have Patrick Chung take on more of a slot cornerback role with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan outside.
RELY ON SHORT PASSING ATTACK
The Ravens are the best team in the NFL at stopping the run, so LeGarrette Blount might not do a ton of damage on the ground.
In order to pick up short chunks of yards, quarterback Tom Brady likely will rely on running backs Dion Lewis and James White, receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Martellus Bennett, if he’s healthy enough to contribute.
The short passing game can set up longer plays to Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.
PRESSURE JOE FLACCO
The Patriots haven’t had many opportunities to face a statuesque quarterback this season, but they get one in Flacco.
The Patriots recently have proven they can put pressure on an opposing quarterback with two games of four or more sacks in the last three weeks. The addition of linebacker Kyle Van Noy has allowed the Patriots to deploy an unpredictable front.
The Patriots typically like to hold back their pressure and force veteran quarterbacks to throw into seven or eight defenders in coverage, but Flacco has a tendency for turnovers and could be forced to make mistakes with pressure in his face.
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