The New England Patriots play their only Monday Night Football game of the season at home against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. The Patriots are on a three game winning streak and look to improve their Gillette Stadium record to 5-2 on the season. A home loss would mean their third on the season, nearly unprecedented for a team that has only lost one or zero home games in six of the previous seven seasons.
The Ravens come to town on a roll of their own. They are winners of four of their last five, none more important than their 38-6 beating over the Miami Dolphins last weekend. The victory puts the Ravens where they seem to be nearly every December; right in the middle of the playoff hunt. The game also has playoff importance for the Patriots who need to keep winning to stay in the race with the eventual AFC West champion for the first AFC playoff seed.
New England Patriots Week 14 Keys To Victory
Keep Emotions in Check
Except for 2015 these two teams have played at least once in each season since 2009. With eight games played in just seven seasons the Patriots have faced the Ravens more than any non-division opponent except the Denver Broncos in that time. As you might expect much bad blood has been built up. Everything you need to know about the rivalry is detailed in this excellent piece. Revenge will be on the mind for both teams. It will be important to not let emotion get in the way of victory.
Block The Pass Rush
The key to the entire game is going to be the Patriots ability to block the Ravens pass rush. They need to block the rush because they are not going to be able to run the ball. The Ravens have given up 70 yards or fewer on the ground to nine of the 12 opponents they have faced this season, and average only 73.8 rush yards per game against, no other team is below 90. They are also the only team to take away more fumbles (five) than rushing touchdowns allowed (four). But wait, there’s more: they rate first in rush defense DVOA by a wide margin, but that doesn’t tell the whole story either, all-time they are rated second, trailing only the historic 2000 Ravens defense. The Patriots traditionally have done poorly running against such opponents, and there is recent history to point to also.
During the last meeting between these two teams in the 2014 playoffs the Patriots managed to rush for just 14 yards. They called only seven designed running plays for their backs all day! In spite of this the Patriots came away with a 35-31 victory. Many will remember this game for the Patriots trick plays. They successfully used the double-pass between Tom Brady–Julian Edelman–Danny Amendola to produce a touchdown and they also used a now illegal formation by repeatedly lining up eligible receivers in traditionally ineligible spots (e.g left tackle) while they split ineligible receivers out wide (while still remaining ineligible). The formation confused the defense on a late Patriots touchdown drive. The tactic is now illegal because the Ravens lobbied the league for a change, and while it certainly contributed to the loss it also overshadowed a larger issue for the Ravens.
Remember those seven called runs mentioned earlier? They were balanced out by 50 pass attempts by Brady (and one by Edelman). The Patriots were the definition of one-dimensional from the get go, and despite this the Ravens didn’t get near Brady all game. They managed to record two sacks and nine quarterback hits but watching the tape shows the Ravens rush was nowhere to be seen. The lack of pressure allowed the Patriots to come back from down 14 points – twice. The Ravens return the same starting duo of defensive ends from that game, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. In that playoff game they managed just half a sack (for Suggs), with Dumervil himself failing to register an official stat.
All of this points to the Patriots being able to handle the Ravens rush Monday night, but their blocking has changed. Marcus Cannon has taken over at right tackle since that game and this will be his first big test since his recent contract extension. History is on his side. Dumervil, who he will primarily line up against, has recorded just one and a half sacks in seven career games against Brady. As strong as the Ravens defense is; history has shown that if you fail to get in Brady’s face the Patriots will get their points. Expect the Patriots to be able to move the ball through the air in this one.
The key for the Patriots defense will be to prove that their recent turnaround is no fluke. In three straight victories the Patriots have held their opponents to 17 points or fewer. The stats looks great, but the opponents were the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, and Los Angeles Rams. These teams rank 29th, 31st, and 32nd respectively in offensive pass DVOA, the schedule could not have been any easier. The Ravens are far from a prolific offense but they are a step-up in competition. And, they have also done it before in Foxborough. In six games at Gillette since 2009 the Ravens have never failed to score fewer than 20 points. They own a 2-4 record overall, but that includes an overtime loss. They also have a franchise record of 2-2 in New England in the postseason, ending the Patriots seasons in 2009 and 2012. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is a nemesis of the Patriots. If they can shut him down then it will be a promising sign for the recent Patriots defensive turnaround.
Each of the Patriots four victories in Gillette mentioned above came by six points or fewer. The match-up of these two teams is always close and there is no reason to expect any different this time. This puts the focus on mistakes and clutch plays. The difference could come down to the kicking game. The Ravens have the leagues best kicker this season. Justin Tucker has made all 48 of his kicks this season and is 8/8 from beyond 50 yards. Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has been off ever since an extra point miss in last seasons AFC championship game. This season he has already missed three extra points and has added another four field goal misses. He has been playing better lately and seemed to get on track last week making three long kicks against the Rams, going 4/4 on field goals on the day.
The game should be relatively low scoring too, which increases the importance of the kickers. The Patriots and Ravens are tied for second in the league with 207 points allowed, trailing only the Seattle Seahawks.
Ravens – Patriots almost always ends up a classic tilt and this Monday night should be no different.