In order for the Ravens to beat the Patriots this weekend, they must:
1) Get pressure on Tom Brady.
This is a no-brainer. Brady is one of the calmest, most composed quarterbacks in the league -- and given time, he can pick any defense apart. But Brady is battling his inner demons -- he has been skiddish so far this season when the pocket collapses...it may take him some time to recover mentally from the horrendous knee injury he suffered last year.
- Player to Watch: Ravens DL Haloti Ngata. If Ngata is able to disrupt the running game and consistently pressure Brady, the Ravens have a great chance to win.
2) Contain Wes Welker.
It appears Welker will be healthy enough to play Sunday. While Randy Moss is the clear #1 receiver (and deep threat) in New England, Wes Welker is the most important. Welker is Brady's go-to guy, and one of the best possession recievers in the league. The Patriots typically try to go to Welker early and often, which forces defenses to double-team him -- leaving Moss in single coverage...and we all know what Moss is capable of doing against single coverage. Welker is too quick to be covered by a linebacker, and Moss usually requires a double-team. Welker is most effective when Brady gets him the ball on short passes, which Welker can turn into big gains.
- Player to Watch: Ravens CB Fabian Washington. I have to think the Ravens are willing to give up the occasional big play to Randy Moss. Ed Reed is in the back of Tom Brady's mind every time he throws down the field. "You don't break the huddle and think, 'Let's just run this play without seeing where he's at.' He'll be exactly where he's supposed to be. It might not be what the defense is supposed to be, but he'll be where the ball is," Brady said. (Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Sun)...Dominique Foxworth is more physical than Fabian Washington, and I expect Foxworth to try jamming Moss at the line quite a bit. If Washington is able to keep up with Welker, it almost forces the Patriots to try going downfield to Moss...where Ed Reed lurks.
3) Establish the running game early.
The Ravens are averaging 34 points a game through the first three games of the season. While Joe Flacco brings credibility to the passing game, the strength of this offense lies with the running game. Flacco has been able to make big plays at key times, but the Patriots are a disciplined team. The most effective way for the Ravens to open up the offense will be with the play-action -- but first, they need to establish the run.
- Player to Watch: Ravens RB Ray Rice. McGahee has played better than Ray Rice so far and has been unstoppable in the red zone, but Ray Rice will need to spread out the Patriots' defense. With Rice on the field, the Patriots will need to account for him as a runner and receiver. If Rice is able to get out on a few screens and runs well between the tackles, expect the offense to put up some big numbers again this Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Patriots 24
Notes: LB Prescott Burgess, released by the Patriots, passed through waivers and signed with their practice squad...Burgess was traded earlier this season from the Ravens to the Patriots for a conditional 7th round draft pick...The spread for the Ravens/Patriots game is currently sitting at Patriots +1...which is interesting because the home team always gets +3...Ravens LB Brendan Ayanbadejo was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for an interception, sack, and six tackles against the Browns last Sunday...2nd round draft pick Paul Kruger is anxious to play and, in spite of rumors stating otherwise, hasn't refused to play special teams...he has even volunteered to play as a backup tight end...Ray Lewis was limited in practice Wednesday with a head injury, but appears to be fine...former Ravens returner Yamon Figurs was waived by the Detroit Lions...former Ravens kicker Graham Gano was signed by the UFL's Las Vegas team, coached by Jim Fassell...Michael Vick's agent reported Wednesday that the Eagles' quarterback signed a new endorsement deal with Nike, but Nike has since denied the rumor.