The New England Patriots travel to Baltimore Monday night to face the Ravens in their third prime-time game in a row. This marks the fourth time the Pats have faced the Ravens and the first time they've traveled to M&T Bank Stadium. The Patriots' big defensive free agent signing Adalius Thomas will make his first trip back to Baltimore to meet his old teammates. The Ravens, though 4-7, still have the 4th ranked defensive unit in the NFL and will be a challenge for Tom Brady and his offensive counterparts.
The Ravens are in the midst of a 5-game losing streak and will play Monday night's game without starting QB Steve McNair and WR Demetrius Williams. They also may be without their top corner, Chris McAlister, TE Todd Heap, and S Gerome Sapp. All three players are listed as "Questionable" and McAlister and Heap did not participate in practice on Friday.
The Ravens will be at a major disadvantage if McAlister can't go, and even if he can, he will not be 100%. This is good news for the Patriot passing attack, especially Randy Moss, who is looking to bounce back from last week's 5 catch, 43 yard performance where he never scored a touchdown. Moss will likely see double-coverage, as he usually does, which should open things up for Welker especially, as we saw last week when he had a career game, catching 13 balls for 149 yards. To cover up their deficiencies in coverage, they will probably roll the dice and gamble on getting to Tom Brady through aggressive blitzes from linebackers Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, and, if they really want to gamble, S Ed Reed. Last week, I predicted heavy blitzing from the Eagles, which was accurate, and that the Pats would use draw plays to counteract those blitzes, which was wrong. I've officially given up predicting a running game from New England, but you really can't argue with the results. They haven't lost yet, right?
While the Ravens are the 4th ranked defensive unit, they are 17th in probably the most important defensive statistic: points allowed. The Ravens have given up 22.1 points per game, and 28.6 points per game during their 5-game losing streak. One of the best things the Patriots can do offensively is be aggressive on defense. Baltimore is second with 28 give-aways, which has partly led to the defense giving up so many points. If the offense can start some drives inside Baltimore's 50-yard line, they can jump ahead early and really put the pressure on what has been a sub-par offense.
Kyle Boller will make the start at QB in place of Steve McNair. Boller, consequentially, was the starting QB the last time these two teams met, and he was less than stellar. He completed 15 passes for 93 yards, no touchdowns, and one INT. He was also sacked on two consecutive plays that led to a defensive touchdown by Jarvis Green on a fumble recovery in the endzone. The offense as a whole has held the team back, much like it has since the Ravens won the SuperBowl in 2000. RB Willis McGahee has been the lone bright spot with 910 yards rushing and 6 TDs, but has not gained 70 yards in three of the last four games. The Pats will likely focus on shutting down McGahee first and worry about the Ravens' passing attack second. If TE Todd Heap is out, the offense will be further in the hole as the Patriots' defense is most vulnerable between the seams in coverage, especially to great TE's like Heap.
While the Patriots and Patriots fans alike learned last week that even backup quarterbacks can have success given the right gameplan, the Ravens' offense just doesn't have the talent to outscore the Patriots' offense. Baltimore's lone hope is shutting down Brady and the Patriots' offense and forcing turnovers, giving their offense a short field. That's obviously so easy task, as the Patriots have a league-best 9 turnovers.
Prediction: Patriots win
For real this time, I'm not picking the score. I will predict that Tom Brady will throw his first touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens, as he has only faced them once, and threw no touchdowns or interceptions.
For the Ravens' view, check out the Ravens' Roost.