|01.10.15 at 3:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The following players are inactive for Saturday’s divisional round playoff game against the Ravens: running backs Jonas Gray and James White, wide receiver Josh Boyce, offensive linemen Jordan Devey and Cameron Fleming, defensive end Zach Moore and tight end Steve Maneri.
Gray is a surprise as the rookie was the leading rusher on the Patriots this season. With him inactive it would seem it will be a big day for running backs Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount. Fleming is also inactive, which is a bit of a surprise as it was thought he could serve as an extra blocker to help battle the Ravens’ pass rush.
Baltimore has no surprises, as offensive tackle Eugene Monroe is active after being listed as questionable
For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.
|01.10.15 at 1:53 pm ET|
Even Tom Brady‘s dog is pumped for Saturday’s game against the Ravens. Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen Instagramed the photo this morning.
|01.10.15 at 1:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Ravens coach John Harbaugh may have been tossing roses in the direction of Bill Belichick earlier in the week but on the night before Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff, he reportedly told his team to take the attack to the Patriots.
According to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Media, Harbaugh said, “the Patriots don’t understand what kind of game they’re about to get into.”
Kinkhabwala tweeted out the message Saturday afternoon, just hours before Harbaugh’s Ravens and Belichick’s Patriots do battle on the ice cold field of Gillette Stadium.
Saturday marks the fourth playoff meeting between Harbaugh and Belichick, with Harbaugh holding a 2-1 advantage. All four meetings have been at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots did manage the upper hand the last time they met overall, a 41-7 Patriots’ thrashing at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore in Week 16 of the 2013 season.
Earlier this week, Harbaugh said that Belichick’s recommendation to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in 2008 “meant everything” toward his head coaching career beginning in Baltimore.
“As far as probably getting the job, it didn’t hurt. You have to ask Steve and [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] if it made the difference or not. But the fact that he was willing to do that at the time, I was stunned when I heard the story much later.”
‘ Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 10, 2015
|01.10.15 at 12:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It will be cold and clear for the 4:35 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Ravens in the AFC divisional showdown at Gillette Stadium.
Temperatures are expected around 21 degrees at the start with a wind out of the west at 9 MPH, making it feel like 10 above. The mercury will drop through the upper-teens throughout the first half, bottoming out at 15 by the fourth quarter. Winds should die down to about 6 MPH at the end of the game with no chance of precipitation.
The Patriots take on the Ravens with a mostly healthy roster, with the only major questions surrounding the neck of starting left guard Dan Connolly, the concussion of Julian Edelman that forced him to miss the last two regular season games and the shoulder and toe of wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
All three practiced this week while Edelman and LaFell were officially listed as probable on Friday.
The Patriots are trying to advance to the AFC championship for a fourth straight season, joining the Raiders (5, 1973-77), Philadelphia (4, 2001-04), Buffalo (4, 1990-93) and Dallas (4, 1970-73, 1992-95) as the only teams to make their conference championship four consecutive years.
This is the fourth time the Ravens and Patriots have met in the playoffs. The Ravens won, 33-14, in the wildcard round in Jan. 2010. The Patriots captured the AFC championship, 23-20, on Billy Cundiff‘s 32-yard field goal miss in Jan. 2012. The Ravens gained revenge the next season in the AFC championship with a 28-13 victory.
With a win today, Pats coach Bill Belichick would tie Tom Landry for the most postseason wins in NFL history with 20. Don Shula, who joked “Beli-cheat” earlier in the week, is currently tied with Belichick at 19. If Belichick were to advance to the Super Bowl this season, he would not only pass Landry, he would break Shula’s mark of six conference championships in the Super Bowl era.
Chris Price thoroughly breaks down today’s matchup and what to expect between the Patriots and a Ravens team that dispatched of the Steelers last Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Tom Brady enters the game with a 11-3 record in playoff games at Gillette Stadium and 12-3 overall in Foxboro in the postseason. Two of those three losses came at the hands of Joe Flacco, who has won five straight postseason games, dating to the start of his 2012 run to a Super Bowl title. Overall, Brady is 18-8 in the postseason as a starting quarterback while Flacco is 10-4 in the postseason, with his last loss coming to Brady’s Patriots in the AFC championship in Jan. 2012.
|01.10.15 at 7:40 am ET|
|01.10.15 at 7:00 am ET|
The Patriots offense isn’t exactly entering the playoffs riding high.
They’ve scored 23 points or fewer in four of their last five games, and getting off to slow starts in those games is a major reason why.
Over the last five first quarters, the Patriots have scored a total of 13 points and just one touchdown. The touchdown came courtesy of a Jamie Collins blocked field goal that Kyle Arrington picked up and ran it all the way back for a touchdown in the Week 15 win over the Dolphins.
The slow starts have been a season-long trend, as for the year they have scored 78 first quarter points and hold just a 78-66 advantage over their opponents in the quarter. That is the lowest differential of any quarter, with the next closet being the third quarter, where the Patriots are outscoring opponents 101-85.
“Starting fast is about execution,” quarterback Tom Brady said last week. “They go hand in hand. Whoever we end up playing, it’s going to be a good football team. Our execution is going to have to be at our very highest.
“So when you work on those things in practice, no one is going to make the plays for us. We’re going to have to go out there and do it. Whatever your job is, whatever your responsibility is — throwing, running, catching, blocking, tackling — you’ve got to do it or else you’ll be sitting at home watching all the other teams do it the next weekend.”
Looking deeper into things, and rather the first two possessions of each game, the starts get even worse for New England. The last time the Patriots scored an offensive touchdown on one of their first two possessions of a game was all the way back in Week 11 against the Colts — a span of six games. They’ve also had an uncharacteristic number of turnovers, as in their last seven games they have turned the ball over three times in one of their first two possessions of the game.
Twice they have kicked field goals in their first two possessions over the last six games — against Buffalo and San Diego — but the overall offensive execution hasn’t been there of late to start games.
Getting off to a quick start will especially be key Saturday against the Ravens, as playing from ahead helps offset the powerful Ravens pass rush, and also it’s worth noting this year the Patriots are 8-0 when scoring a first quarter touchdown. Meanwhile, Baltimore might be even worse than the Patriots in the opening quarter.
Of the 17 first quarters the Ravens have played this season, they have scored zero points in nine of them, and have scored points in just one game over their last five.
When it comes to finding a key to the game, getting off to a fast start and playing from ahead might just be one of the biggest ones for New England. After all, in the postseason since the NFL merger in 1970, the Patriots are 18-7 when scoring first, and 6-10 when they don’t.
|01.09.15 at 7:34 pm ET|
Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Saturday’s Ravens-Patriots divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Don’t expect New England to put the game in the hands of LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray or any one of their other backs. It’s not that they don’t trust them — it’s just that when faced with a stern defensive front like the Ravens, it wouldn’t be smart. Baltimore will be the fourth team in the top 5 in rushing yards allowed per game the Patriots will have faced this year (the Ravens were fourth in the league this season, having allowed 88.3 rushing yards per game). Here’s a look at what they did in each one of those contest as a team on the ground:
vs. Detroit: 20 carries, 90 yards
vs. Denver: 25 carries, 66 yards
vs. Jets (two-game average): 20 carries, 74 yards
Bottom line? While some of it will depend on situational football — the only reason New England ran as much as it did against the Lions was because it was trying to kill the clock in the second half, and it held a sizable lead — don’t expect the Patriots to try and beat the Ravens on the ground. Instead, look for New England to run the ball just enough to keep the Baltimore defense honest, as well as utilizing it as a potential decoy for play-action fakes and whatnot in the second half. Despite the fact that he’s a little banged up at this point, Blount should get the bulk of the carries for New England, with some Gray and Brandon Bolden sprinkled in for good measure. When it comes to snaps, this could be a sizable week for Shane Vereen, who will likely be utilized more in the passing game against the Ravens than ever before. If the Patriots do decide to spread things out and go four-wide, he will certainly be another option in the passing game. (As a result, the final snap count for the backs could be skewed in his favor. Something to watch for.) In Blount’s four career games against the Ravens, he’s averaged 11 carries and 41 yards per game, which sounds about right for Saturday night.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
The Patriots ability to control the tempo of the contest and impose its will on the Ravens will start with their passing game. Despite the fact that Baltimore has two elite pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil (17 sacks) and Terrell Suggs, this is a winnable matchup for New England, primarily because the Ravens secondary is vulnerable because of injury. Over the course of the regular season, the Ravens were 23rd in the league with 249 passing yards per game allowed, 22nd in completion percentage allowed (64.2) and 19th in opposing passer rating (90.6). In all, the Ravens yielded 300 or more passing yards on five occasions. Meanwhile, Tom Brady (64 percent completion rate, 4,109 yards, 33 TDs, 9 INTs, 97.4 passer rating) will look to exploit those soft spots with receivers like Julian Edelman (92 catches, 972 yards, 4 TDs), tight end Rob Gronkowski (82 catches, 1,124 yards, 12 TDs) and Brandon LaFell (74 catches, 953 yards, 7 TDs).
With an occasionally wobbly offensive line looking for some help, New England really has two options here. One, spread the Ravens out with four-wide sets, go quickly and have Brady put a priority on getting the ball out as fast as possible in hopes of maximizing some vulnerabilities in the Baltimore secondary, particularly when it comes to Gronkowski. (Like the Patriots, the Ravens have struggled to contain opposing tight ends this season, and don’t appear to have an effective counterpoint to Gronkowski). If the Patriots do try and speed things up, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The Patriots have run no-huddle on only 7 percent of their offensive snaps this year, but it’s been a pretty consistent weapon in their arsenal against Baltimore as of late. The last seven times the Patriots have played Baltimore (dating back to the 2009 season), they’ve run 139 of their 490 plays in the no-huddle, a rate of 28 percent.
And two, load up with an extra offensive lineman (likely rookie Cameron Fleming) and a fullback to create a max-protect situation for Brady in hopes of buying him enough time to throw. From this viewpoint, the Patriots will likely go with the former, but if there are protection or coverage issues, look for them to switch to the latter. However, with a completely healthy offensive line, that might not be a problem — as many slings and arrows as the New England offensive line has tarn over the course of the last month, the group he proven itself to be statistically stout when all the starters are on the field together. (More on that shortly.)
The Ravens secondary has struggled with injuries this year, and while they were able to flash plenty of positives in the playoff win over the Steelers — thanks in large part to some really interesting zone blitz schemes — there are still question marks about their ability to slow a deep New England passing game, particularly if the Patriots’ offensive line provides Brady with the time needed to deliver the ball. If the Ravens can’t get pressure on Brady, this could turn into a long afternoon for Baltimore. If they can, it could make things exceptionally dicey for the Patriots’ offense.
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