Five things you have to know about the Ravens
|12.17.13 at 7:15 pm ET|
The Patriots will try to close out the AFC East and put a major dent in the playoff hopes of the Ravens when they travel to Baltimore for a Sunday afternoon contest. Here are five things you have to know about the Ravens.
1. They almost always do a really good job at defending Tom Brady.
Old warhorses like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no longer around, but the Ravens remain are as stout as they come defensively. There are some questions about their ability to close defensively — they’ve allowed 96 points in the fourth quarter this season, the most of any AFC team still in the playoff chase — but there’s still a lot to like about what they’re doing. They’re in the top 10 when it comes to total defense (334 yards per game allowed, ninth-best in the league), run defense (102.4 rush yards per game allowed, seventh-best in the league) and points per game allowed (19.8 per game, seventh-best in the league). They are one team that consistently makes things difficult for Brady, who is 2-3 against them in his last five games. Over the course of his career, the quarterback averages 57 percent when it comes to his completion rate, and has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-10 in his career against Baltimore. (According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Ravens have held Brady under 6.8 YPA in six of eight career meetings.) With New England facing a dicey situation when it comes to offensive line depth, particular at tackle, the pressure off the edges will be a concern — old friend Terrell Suggs (9 sacks) figures to have something to say about this one before the week is done, and Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) should also be a handful for the Patriots offensive line.
2. They have almost as much experience playing close games this season as the Patriots.
When the Patriots and Ravens meet Sunday, chances are good that it’ll be a close game. Eleven of the 14 games New England has played this year have been decided by seven points or less, while Baltimore has played in 10 games decided by seven points or less. The Ravens have gone 5-5 in their games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Patriots are 7-4. Baltimore has won their last three games by a total of seven points, which includes Monday’s win over the Lions, a contest that wasn’t decided until Justin Tucker connected on his sixth field goal of the night, a 61-yarder than lifted the Ravens to an 18-16 win. All that comes against a backdrop of almost nothing but close games between these two teams — since 2004, five of the eight games between Patriots and Ravens have been decided by six points or less. Expect another close one come Sunday afternoon.
3. They aren’t wholly consistent in the passing game, but they can make big plays fairly regularly.
The Ravens have 13 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season, good for third-best in the league — they trail the Eagles (18) and Browns (14). He still tosses it up a little too often for Baltimore fans, but for the most part, Joe Flacco has done well to avoid the old ‘Jump Ball Joe’ tag that dogged him through the early days of his career, thanks in large part to an underrated receiving corps. They don’t have an elite group of burners, as their yards per catch is in the lower third of the league (11.2 yards per catch, 25th), but it’s more situational. Torrey Smith (59 catches, 1,032 yards, four touchdowns and 17.5 yards per catch), Marlon Brown (40 catches, 443 yards, six touchdowns) and Jacoby Jones (35 catches, 433 yards, two touchdowns) have the ability to work the field and occasionally get behind a defense, and with the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, things have started to open up for the rest of the passing game.
4. They have had trouble running the ball consistently.
Baltimore has long been one of the better running teams in the league — the punishing style of Ray Rice is perfectly suited to the physical brand of football they love to play. But this season is a different story, as the Ravens are averaging 82.9 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL. After never falling below four yards per carry when it comes to his overall season average, Rice is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry through 14 games this season. Baltimore has gotten a nice boost over the last few weeks, as some favorable matchups have allowed them to turn the corner a bit when it comes to their numbers on the ground — in their last two games (Minnesota and Detroit), Rice has gained 123 yards on 29 carries, good for 4.2 yards per carry. It remains to be seen if Rice and the Ravens can continue to trend upward, but they should get their chances this week against a New England run defense that has struggled over the last couple of months.
5. They have a really good kicker.
Tucker is coming into this game on a roll, having made six field goals — including a game-winning 61-yarder — to lift the Ravens past the Lions in Detroit on Monday. Tucker is in the top 5 in every major kicking category, including total field goals made (first with 35), most field goals made from 50-plus (tied for first with six), overall field-goal percentage (fourth at 94.6 percent) and longest field goal of the year (his 61-yarder Monday night was the second-longest of the season). Bill Belichick talked extensively about Tucker and his abilities on Tuesday, saying that he has the unique ability to extend the Ravens offensive range. If the game is as close as we expect it to be, it’s a safe bet that Tucker (as well as his counterpoint, New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski) will play a central role at some point in the drama.