Week 4 Game Preview: Baltimore Ravens (3-0) at New England Patriots (2-1)

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Game Info:

Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

Site: Gillette Stadium (68,756) • Foxborough, MA

TV: CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Phil Simms (color)

Fast Facts:

– The Patriots own the NFL’s best home record (55-19) since 2000, 1 game better than the Ravens (54-20).

– Baltimore has never beaten New England in four tries, including two losses at Foxborough by a combined score of 44-6.

– In the Ravens’ last 7 regular season road games, QB Joe Flacco has produced a 101.1 QB rating, the best figure in the NFL. In those contests, he has thrown for 11 TDs and just 3 INTs.

– The Ravens’ defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 38 straight regular season games. That is the NFL’s longest current streak.

Ravens Offense vs. Patriots Defense: The Patriots will once again be without Jerod Mayo, their extremely talented young linebacker. Mayo, who was named the 2008 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, sprained his MCL in the Patriots’ season opener. He is slated to return sometime before the end of this season. But not having him in the middle on Sunday is something the Ravens have to take advantage of by getting the ball to Todd Heap early and often. Baltimore’s Matt Birk did a stellar job last week of blocking big Shaun Rogers of the Browns. He faces another tough task this week in going against nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork reminds me a lot of the Ravens’ Kelly Gregg in that he has a motor that never stops and can give the offensive line fits. He will find his way into the backfield several times per game. Don’t expect Joe Flacco and Co. to put up the kind of numbers we’ve seen in the first 3 weeks. Taking care of the ball will be a priority as always. RB Willis McGahee leads the NFL with six touchdowns. He and Ray Rice have to establish the running game as a threat early in the game.

Patriots Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Where do I begin? QB Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback of his era. Winning 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, he is the epitome of what you look for in a winning quarterback. He has a great arm and he can dissect opposing defenses. He has a terrific sense of the pass rush and always seems to get rid of the ball right before the pressure gets to him. However Brady’s accuracy has taken a dip so far in 2009. Since returning from knee surgery, Brady hasn’t looked as accurate as he has been is years past. His 79.9 QB Rating is well below his career average of 92.4. Baltimore will use their variety of disguised blitzes to try and disrupt his rhythm. Keep in mind it was only 2 weeks ago that Rex Ryan’s Jets gave Brady and the Pats’ offense fits with their defensive scheme. The Ravens are running the essentially the same defense as the Jets are. Look for that to be a factor. Wide receiver Randy Moss is tall, strong, and physical. He knows how to get into the best position possible to make all the big catches. But like Brady, Moss’s numbers could be better. He has 226 yards receiving, which is fifth best in the league. But he also has zero TD catches. What concerns me is how much trouble the Ravens’ secondary had defending Vincent Jackson and the rest of the Chargers receiving corps in Week 2. At 6-foot-4, Moss has a clear height advantage over the Ravens’ Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth (each 5-foot-11). I believe Moss is due for breakout game and will frustrate the Ravens’ corners all afternoon. The always dangerous Wes Welker is questionable for Sunday’s game with a knee injury. He is likely to be a game-time decision.

Prediction: The Ravens are very capable of winning this game. They proved last year against Tennessee in the playoffs that they could go on the road into a hostile environment and beat a tough team. It’s all about execution though. They need to play their game and limit the number of big plays they give up on defense. Flacco has been great on the road throughout his young career, but once again he faces a tough test on the road. Can he handle it? I see New England jumping out to an early lead and Baltimore playing catch-up the whole time. The Ravens defense will be on their game. But being aggressive will lead to a big play or two by Moss. It will be close, but this one goes to the Pats. PATRIOTS 26 – RAVENS 17.

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