|01.07.15 at 5:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s been four years since Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis has played in a playoff game, as when he was with the Jets they went to back-to-back AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010.
After a four-year hiatus, the 29-year-old is ready to get back to playing in the postseason, and is ready to take on what he deemed an “explosive” Ravens offense Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
“They’re very explosive,” Revis said. “You’ve got the Smith brothers, or whatever you want to call them. Torrey Smith and Steve. You’ve got [Owen] Daniels at tight end and [Justin] Forsett at running back. They’re a very explosive offense. You see it all the time on film. Forsett making long runs. Flacco’s throwing the ball deep and they’re making big plays. They’re a big-play offensive team. That’s something we really got to focus on as a defense.”
The Patriots have utilized Revis and Brandon Browner to stop the opposing team’s best two receivers each week. It would seem against the Ravens Revis would be matched up primarily with Steve Smith Sr., while Browner would get Torrey Smith. Even at 35 years old, Steve Smith is still playing at a high level.
In his first season with the Ravens — his 14th in the league — he caught 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. He also had a big game against the Steelers last Saturday night — catching a team-leading five passes for 101 yards. Revis knows despite his age, he can still play the game at a high level.
“His age is what it is on paper, but he’s still electrifying,” Revis said. “He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s fast. He’s very crafty. He’s all you want in a receiver. He’s one of the best in the league, he’s still making big plays. I’ve covered him before, we had some great battles. The guy is an impact player, he’s a big-time player.”
|01.07.15 at 4:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There’s no bigger or more important virtue in playoff football than trust.
When you’ve played together all spring in OTAs, summer training camp, preseason and 16 regular season games, team chemistry is built block upon block.
Now, it’s time to show that the foundation that was built is ready to support a championship structure. And that foundation, as Vince Wilfork reminded everyone Wednesday is set in defense, specifically a unit that is now centered around young linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
“It’s at an all-time high with these guys,” Wilfork said of his trust with the two linebackers. “That’s one of the things that we try to preach around here. No matter what happens, if your number is called, you have to be ready to play. And those guys, their number has been called last year and this year, this season, and they stepped up. It’s not hard for me to sit back and say, ‘You know what, I know they’re going to be where they need to be. I know they’re going to put us in the right situation.’ They understand the game, they understand the game plan, they understand what the offense is trying to do to us, so it makes our jobs a lot easier up front to understand that everybody that’s on that field at that moment, we trust them.”
Why is trust so very important now in the playoffs?
“Without trust, you have a lot of problems,” Wilfork said. “And I think I’ve been fortunate being around this organization, this ball club for a while that the times we had those issues, we had problems. But now, with the guys that came in, whether it’s drafted or free agents or whatever it may be, they come in and they pick it up and we have no issues. It says a lot about that player as an individual and the system that we have in place, the coaching staff and how they get us prepared [and] ready to play. It’s a team effort.
“It’s definitely a team effort, but at the same time, at the end of the day when we take that field, we trust one another, and I think the good teams, they do that. They don’t panic. No matter how good you are or how bad you’re sucking, you just stick together and you just ride it out. I think we had our course over the year where we had to do some of those things and we rallied together as a team, and I think that’s what a good football team does.”
The Patriots defense has come of age the last several weeks, and as WEEI’s Chris Price pointed out, has allowed a second half touchdown in the last four games. Wilfork was asked how he, coming off an Achilles injury last season, has managed to stay fresh and appears ready to shine in the playoffs.
“Easy. We come in, Bill [Belichick] gets us in here, and we got some stuff done that we needed to do. I think it took the stress level off not preparing for a game, but at the same time preparing for things that we might need to do down the road or what makes us better as a team. We had good days of practice where it was very competitive. Nobody was complaining. We had fun. We got some good work done.
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|01.07.15 at 4:16 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Judging by the Patriots’ first injury report of the postseason, it would seem they used their bye week to their advantage to get healthy, as it is a very short injury report coming out of Wednesday’s practice.
This comes after Week 17 of the regular-season when the team had 18 players listed on the Friday injury report.
It certainly is good news for the offensive line, as no one is on the list. Dan Connolly (ankle) missed the last two games of the year, Sebastian Vollmer (back) missed the regular-season finale and Nate Solder left the game against the Bills with an injury, so it would appear the offensive line will be operating at full strength Saturday afternoon against the Ravens.
It’s also worth nothing, rookie Cameron Fleming (ankle) has been removed from the report from Week 17, as he could be used as an extra blocking offensive lineman against the powerful Ravens front.
The secondary also got healthier with Brandon Browner (groin) and Kyle Arrington (hamstring) not being listed.
Here is the complete practice report:
RB LeGarrette Blount (illness)
WR Julian Edelman (concussion)
RB Jonas Gray (ankle)
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder/toe)
QB Tom Brady (ankle)
|01.07.15 at 4:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — This week, the Patriots will be going against a Ravens’ offensive line that utilizes a zone-blocking scheme. The zone-blocking front operates differently than many traditional lines in that the focus is on clearing lanes and specific spaces as opposed to blocking individual defensive linemen. The goal is to create lanes for a running back or quarterback. In this system, quickness, coordination and technique often trump size and strength.
It’s a philosophy backed by Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who implemented the system when he was an offensive coordinator in Denver and a head coach in Houston. It’s a system that Bill Belichick has schemed against several times over the years.
It’s also an approach that not all defensive linemen are crazy about, because it also calls for cut blocking — a move that calls for offensive linemen to occasionally dive at a defenders knees in hopes of taking him out of the play. It’s a completely legal maneuver, but one that could ultimately be addressed sooner-rather-than-later in the name of player safety.
When asked Tuesday if Baltimore utilizes cut blocks, Belichick flashed a small smile.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” he replied.
“The same offense they ran in Denver, the same offense they ran in Houston is the same offense Kubiak runs in Baltimore,” he added. “So, all the characteristics from those other teams are the same characteristics in Baltimore.”
When asked about the challenge of facing a zone-blocking scheme this week in the Ravens, veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said the first thing you look for are the cut blocks, utilized primarily in hopes of springing running back Justin Forsett.
“Facing a team like this, they cut block,” he said. “And then, also, they make the play-action pass look the same exact way. That’s probably one of the hardest things to figure out during the course of the play is if it’s a [bootleg] or if it’s a run. And they make it look exactly the same, so that’s a credit to them.
“It’s always challenging to face a team that runs this type of an offense, just because there are so many things that they can do off of it with the cut blocks, with the play-action pass, trying to get the ball vertical, not knowing where the running back is going to cut,” he added. “So, it gives their offense a lot of different areas that they can actually create lanes up front. So, we’re going to have to do a real good job up front of just playing good technique.”
In his first season as a starter with the Ravens, Forsett has done very well. Serving as a multidimensional threat, the Cal product ended the season with 235 carries for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, and became the only running back in the NFL to finish with at least 1,200 rushing yards and average at least five yards per carry (5.4). The 5-foot-8, 197-pounder also has 44 catches on 59 targets for 263 yards.
|01.07.15 at 2:30 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For all the hyped-up feuding between Terrell Suggs and Tom Brady and the trash-talking of Steve Smith, Matthew Slater provides the other end of the spectrum in the great rivalry the Patriots and Ravens have shared in the last six years.
On Wednesday, Slater, who has seen all three previous playoff meetings between the two since Jan. 2010, characterized the rivalry.
“It’s a special matchup,” Slater said. “I think that organization and what they do there, they really play the game the right way. They coach it the right way. Organizationally, they have good leadership. Obviously their coach is one of the better coaches in this league and we feel strongly about our program over here. So, you have two programs that try to approach this game and play it a certain way and as a result you get a physical, well-played football game usually when these two teams matchup. It’s going to be a battle. It always has been. We have to get ourselves ready for the challenge.
And how, exactly, is ‘playing the right way’ defined?
“I think playing disciplined, playing together, playing hard; preparation,” Slater added. “You can tell when teams are prepared. I think they do all of those things. It starts at the top obviously and it goes on down through the ranks. They certainly have all those attributes as a football team.”
For Slater, he and the Patriots will appreciate the rivalry and the game Saturday if they make a big play early on special teams against another team that takes pride in its own special teams.
“We feel it’s important that we go out and set the tone,” Slater said. “Obviously we’re the first play of the game. I think it’s important in a game like this where the teams are so evenly matched, if you can gain an edge in that third phase, it can make a huge difference. I think if we can go out and set the tone early, it would be big for us. We know they’re going to be ready to go. We know Jacoby is going to be ready to go. We have to match their intensity and hopefully come out and start well.
|01.07.15 at 2:17 pm ET|
For both, the special teams weapon known as Jacoby Jones will be a priority when it comes to game-planning Saturday night against the Ravens.
Jones has returned three kickoffs in his career for 108 yards and a touchdown. One came two years ago in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII that helped the Ravens build a big lead and eventually hold on for a world championship win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Slater, the special teams captain, was asked if Jones has the rare ability to change a game all by himself and if that worries the Patriots special teams unit.
“Without question,” Slater said. “There’s no other combo returner in the league like him. He poses a lot of problems with his size and speed. You look across the board, there’s not too many guys like that. And anytime he touches the ball we have to have a sense of urgency because he can hit a home run at anytime. So he is definitely priority number one. We’ve got to do a good job with him.”
Like Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh comes from a special teams background. Slater sees an extremely high level of execution in the Ravens’ special teams unit ever since Harbaugh took over in 2008.
“I think not only this season but over the course of my career playing against these guys, they’re one of the better coached, more disciplined, more physical units that we will see over the course of the season,” Slater said. “And it’s no different this year. These guys play the game the right way. You can tell they’re well-coached. You can tell they take a lot of pride in what they do over there and certainly they have some players that are special. They are a great unit.”
What was clear Wednesday in listening to Slater is the urgency with which the Patriots are treating their preparations this week.
“It means everything. When it comes down to all the work that we’ve put in since the offseason to get to this point. This is why you play the game,” Slater said. “I truly believe this is the ultimate team sport. You work so hard as a team to get to this point in the season and you can’t take it for granted. There are eight teams left. We’re really fortunate to be in the position we’re in and hopefully we can do everything we can to take advantage of our opportunity.”
|01.07.15 at 1:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman missed the last two games of the regular season with a concussion — the first games he’s missed since the 2012 season.
The 28-year-old spoke for the first time since suffering the injury on Wednesday, but didn’t want to talk about the past, as he is all about the Ravens.
“What I experienced is in the past,” said Edelman. “I am worrying about the Baltimore Ravens. I am looking forward to that experience on Saturday.”
“What happened in December happened in December, it’s January,” he added. “We’ve taken this last week and these last few days and tried to take advantage of them preparing ourselves and making ourselves better. You take last week and you self-scout and you do everything you can to make your strengths stronger and weaknesses better and we start this week — we find out who we’re playing, which is Baltimore and we go and try and get after what we have to do against them. That is what we’ve been doing and we have a couple more days of doing it.”
Edelman finished the 2014 season with 92 catches for 972 yards and four touchdowns. His 92 receptions were fourth in the AFC, even with missing two games. With Edelman out of the lineup, the Patriots’ offense struggled a bit — scoring only 17 points against the Jets in Week 16 and nine points against the Bills in Week 17.
The shifty receiver said it was hard watching from afar.
“Anytime you don’t get to go out and play with your teammates it’s tough, especially during the year, preparing for the postseason,” said Edelman. “All that is in the past and I am looking forward to today preparing for the Ravens and this game.”
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