The AFC Championship matchup between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens is an interesting contrast in terms of head coaches. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a willy veteran who is a master of the gameplan and lots of experience. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is still earning his stripes in the NFL, but shows a ton of promise and his future is certainly bright. Both coaches early on in this game seem to have their game plans in order. However, what we are seeing early on is Belichick is not afraid to pull out all the stops, including a mock fake punt to start the game, and Harbaugh is going to have to find a way to counter.
The conditions of the game have played a role in the Ravens play calling early on as it appears they are concerned about the wind, and it’s showing early in the play calling. They have really only taken one shot down field so far with quarterback Joe Flacco, and while the score is still close, they seem content running a game plan that looks like they have a 14 point lead. The problem with it is, they are allowing the Patriots offense way too much time on the field and putting their defense under the gun early on.
The Patriots seem more comfortable running their typical game plan even in the wind, but they seem to be limiting the tempo offense early on. I suspect they will really amp it up if they are able to stretch their lead. The Ravens are committing to stopping the run, but the Patriots are keeping calm and sticking with the plan, even though it’s not netting them much.
As this game progresses the Ravens are going to have to open the playbook up, and get some first downs. Patriots staring cornerback Aqib Talib is injured and a good coach will attack that. If they cannot, their defense is going to wear down regardless of what kind of offense the Patriots run. Harbaugh needs to take advantage of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and target tight end Dennis Pitta more if they want to keep moving the chains, but never forget they should be able to pound the football at the Patriots front seven.
For the Patriots it needs to be business as usual. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is a key weapon and quarterback Tom Brady is finding him. Belichick needs to continue to mix the run and the pass and eventually he’ll soften that Ravens defense up. But on defense they are going to have to find an answer for running back Ray Rice, because it’s clear the Ravens are going to continue to feed him the football. The chess match continues.