After a stunning two point loss to the surprising Arizona Cardinals Sunday, the New England Patriots have to bounce back this week when they head south to face the Baltimore Ravens. A rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, the Ravens (1-1) are coming off a tough loss in week two to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Ravens offense will give the Patriots a new look as they have been running a no huddle offense which spreads the ball around. As usual, Anquan Boldin is the go-to receiver for the Ravens and will be a key for the Patriots defensive backs to stop. But this year Joe Flacco has more weapons as the team will be returning second round 2011 NFL Draft pick Torrey Smith with more experience and former Houston Texans receiver Jacoby Jones. While Boldin is the still the most used receiver by the Ravens, the speedy Smith is a vertical threat that could cause problems for the Patriots defense which has struggled at stopping players with his skill set.
The Ravens like to use their tight ends in the passing game as well. Patriots linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes will have to keep an eye out for Ravens tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Pitta, the Ravens starting tight end, has been the most targeted receiver through the first two weeks. In week one, Pitta accumulated five receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. In week two he had eight receptions for 65 yards.
In the backfield the Ravens still have their star Ray Rice. The two-time Pro Bowler ended 2011 with over 1,300 yards rushing and is a threat in the passing game as well. While Rice has struggled early this season only tallying 167 yards on 29 carries through two weeks, he could break out for a big game any week. With a strong offensive line and a Pro Bowl running back, Sunday night will be a test for the Patriots defensive line. The Ravens no huddle offense will mean a lot of snaps for veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and rookie starting defensive end Chandler Jones.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have a defense that is consistently in the top ten but with a great deal of turnover in 2012. While the team has several new young starters this season, they will also return several starters which include future hall of famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. One key player missing for the Ravens will be Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. But with the Patriots losing tight end Aaron Hernandez, it won’t give the Patriots as much of an advantage as it could have.
A key for the Patriots to win this game will be the offensive line. The Ravens have some very good pass rushers in Pernell McPhee and Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata. They will be a challenge for the Patriots offensive line that is still young and inexperienced. If the team’s offensive line is unable to hold back the Ravens defensive line, it could be a long day for the Patriots offense and a big day for Lewis and Reed.
The most interesting matchup of this game will be the Patriots offense against the Ravens defense. Usually one of the league’s best offenses and one of the league’s best defenses, both teams are looking to get on the right path. Other than missing Hernandez, the Patriots have a young starting running back and seem to be phasing out four-time Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker. Usually ranked near the top of the league, the Ravens defense ranks just 27th of 32 NFL teams through the first two weeks and are missing a five-time Pro Bowler in Suggs.
Both the Patriots and Ravens looked very strong in week one wins but floundered in week two. Sunday night’s rematch of last year’s AFC championship game will be an important game for both teams as they look to get back to their winning ways.