I just got finished watching the tape of the Broncos-Pats game and the number one impression that I came away with was how efficient New England's offense is. I don't know how anybody will stop them. Which of course brings me to the Ravens defense, they are pretty darn good too. There are some great match-ups in this game between the stars on the Patriots offense and the stars on the Ravens defense:
1) Terrell Suggs v. either Matt Light or Nate Solder: I thought Matt Light played as well as I have seen him in a while. He was light on his feet and looked like the 2 weeks off did him a lot of good. Nate Solder is as athletic as any tackle I have seen on tape this year, he will be a star. The Ravens are coming off a zero sack game against the Texans and almost got beat by a third string QB. Of course the Texans running game had a lot to do with that, but the Ravens are going to have to make some tough decisions v. the Patriots. If Ray Lewis plays on third down or against the spread, Brady will go after him in the passing game. The response from the Ravens will probably be to blitz Ray. I also wonder whether we will see much of Terrance Cody and Cory Redding on the DL. Terrell Suggs will get at least double teamed until the Ravens counter with other pass rushers like Paul Kruger, Arthur Jones, and Pernell McPhee.
2) The Patriots can do so much out of so many different personnel groups, I'm not sure how the Ravens will counter. The Patriots proved they could run with Aaron Hernandez out of a no-back set and do it effectively. They then went with an extra offensive lineman and threw a 1-1 touchdown to Hernandez who is almost impossible to cover when he gets single covered. Obviously the same can be said for Gronkowski. I really think Rob Gronkowski is one of the top 15 players in the league at any position. He is a great blocker, he is used on trap blocks inside, overpowers defenders running routes, and has some of the softest hands for a big man I have ever seen. Logan Mankins at guard is so nasty they should make him illegal. The Patriots receivers all block well, especially Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.
3) For the Ravens, Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb are great players in the secondary. Webb is starting to take some risks that have paid off for the Ravens. It will be interesting to see if Brady tries to double move his aggressive play or just avoid him. I would avoid him. I also think that Jarret Johnson will play a key role. Johnson is a hammer playing over tight ends. Whenever Gronkowski is playing his traditional tight end position Johnson will try to keep him at the line of scrimmage.
4) The Patriots aren't unstoppable. Tom Brady lacks a real deep threat, a star running back, and center Dan Connolly can be pushed back into him in the pocket. I think the Ravens will take a page from the Steelers' playbook and try to jam these receivers long enough to at least get some hits on Brady. The no-huddle will wear down the Ravens' pass rushers if they can't get off the field in 3 to 6 downs. The Broncos rushers were simply out of gas at the end of those long drives.
5) I thing the magic number for the Ravens is 25. I can't imagine the Ravens opening up their offense enough to score more than that, but they are playing against a Patriots defense that gives up big plays. Tough choice for the Ravens. Do they open it up and try to match points with the Patriots, or slow it down and try to frustrate Tom Brady? Can Torrey Smith and Lee Evans get open deep? The Patriots are pretty cautious in the secondary. It won't be easy.
6) There is almost no way around it, this game hinges on Joe Flacco. He wanted respect, here is his chance.