Scouting The Ravens: AFC North-Leading Baltimore Built On Defense, Physicality

Julian Edelman said he expects the New England Patriots’ upcoming matchup with the Baltimore Ravens to be a “fistfight.” That word would describe most of the teams’ meetings through the years.

“I think Baltimore’s philosophy from top down is to be physical and aggressive,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said, “and to have that sort of play style that’s going to come in and play the game probably how it should be played for the most part — with the pads. I think they do an excellent job of that as an emphasis as a team. I think it spans through the offense, the defense and the special teams.”

Here’s a closer look at the Ravens, who will look to strengthen their hold on the AFC North’s top spot when they visit Gillette Stadium on Monday night:

Ed Reed and Ray Lewis aren’t walking through that door, but Baltimore’s defense still is one of the best in the NFL. The Ravens rank first in yards allowed per game, first in rushing defense, seventh in passing defense, tied for fourth in takeaways and tied for second in scoring defense.

Baltimore is especially stout against the run, surrendering just 886 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns all season.

“They challenge you on every play, and they don’t give up any easy yards,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “That’s the sign of a team that’s well-coached, disciplined, knows their scheme really well. They have a tremendous amount of good players on all three levels of the defense.”

Terrell Suggs remains a pass-rushing staple, leading the team with eight sacks, and fellow linebacker Zachary Orr is tied for fourth in the league with 112 tackles. Former San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle has been a solid addition to Baltimore’s secondary, notching three interceptions and a team-high 10 pass breakups.

The Ravens have been a middle-of-the-road team offensively this season, ranking 17th in total offense and 21st in points per game.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is on pace for career bests in completion percentage and passing yards, however, and his top two wide receivers, veterans Mike Wallace and Steve Smith, both have been productive despite their relative old age. Patricia raved about Smith’s “old-school” toughness during Tuesday’s conference call.

Much of the Ravens’ offensive production comes through the air. When they do keep it on the ground, Terrance West handles the bulk of the ball-carrying duties, though rookie running back Kenneth Dixon has seen his touches increase over the past few weeks.

Kicker Justin Tucker is Baltimore’s MVP this season. No, seriously. Tucker is a perfect 28-for-28 on field goals and 20-for-20 on extra points, and he leads the league in both field goals made from 40 to 49 yards (11 of 11) and ones made from 50-plus (8 of 8).

Punter Sam Koch also has been solid, ranking third in the NFL in punts downed inside the 20.

The Patriots and Ravens have met just 12 times since the latter relocated from Cleveland in 1996, but a high number of those games have been absolute wars. The 2014 divisional round immediately comes to mind, as do their two AFC title game matchups and that bat-(bleep) crazy Monday night game from back in 2007.

They haven’t played one another in the regular season since 2013. The Patriots won that game 41-7 in one of the series’ few blowouts.

Baltimore has been a streaky team this season. It won its first three games — with two of those wins coming over the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars — then dropped its next four to fall below .500. Since then, the Ravens have won four of five, including a 38-6 demolition of the Miami Dolphins on the road this past Sunday.

Edelman expecting “fistfight” vs. Ravens >>

Thumbnail photo via Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports Images