The Patriots and Ravens are certainly no strangers to each other after facing off four times since October 2009, including two playoff meetings, the latest being the Patriots’ 23-20 victory at Gillette Stadium in last season’s AFC Championship.
And while a lot has changed for the Patriots since January, the same is true for the Ravens.
Former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees has taken over for Chuck Pagano, who left to be head coach of the Colts. Pagano designed the game plan that held Tom Brady to 22 of 36 passing for 239 yards and two interceptions in January.
Pees has had to retool after losing linebackers Terrell Suggs (injury) and Jarret Johnson (free agency) before the season. Probably the bigger potential loss for this game is strong safety Bernard Pollard, who left Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Eagles with bruised ribs. Pollard, who has knocked Brady and Rob Gronkowski out of games with injury, said he’ll play.
On offense, Michael Oher has moved from right tackle to left, where he has supplanted Bryant McKinnie for the time being. Second-round pick Kelechi Osemele has taken Oher’s spot on the right side. Ramon Harewood, a 2010 sixth-round pick, is trying to replace Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs, who signed with the Saints.
And receiver Lee Evans (dropped pass as Sterling Moore got a hand in) and Billy Cundiff (missed 32-yard game-tying field goal as time expired) are gone as well. They’ve been ably replaced by Jacoby Jones (Texans) and Justin Tucker (undrafted rookie free agent).
A look at the Ravens, who have won 13 straight games after losses:
The Ravens have opened things up under coordinator Cam Cameron and would like to use the no-huddle offense. Quarterback Joe Flacco was terrific in the opener against the Bengals, and completed 14 of 17 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown as Baltimore led the Eagles, 17-7, at halftime. Flacco then was 8 of 22 with an interception as the Ravens managed only 6 more points . . . Flacco prefers to throw inside and will lean on running back Ray Rice and tight end Dennis Pitta to move the offense. Flacco seems to like to throw to the receivers only on designed shots (speedster Torrey Smith) and against man coverage (Jones) . . . In the AFC Championship game, Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork had his finest game as he lined up everywhere along the line and dominated each lineman except for Oher. Wilfork had a sack and a hurry against center Matt Birk, and two hurries and a tackle for a loss against the departed Grubbs . . . Newcomers Harewood and Osemele are the two weak spots on the line . . . Of course, everything continues to run through Rice, so the Patriots will be out to limit him. Look for the Ravens to use fullback Vonta Leach more. He’s terrific, and it should be fun to watch Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes and Leach duke it out . . . The Ravens, like the Patriots, are coming off a game in which they were ineffective on third downs (4 of 15) and especially in manageable yardage (1 of 8).
If Pollard can’t play, former Patriots safety James Ihedigbo will. He’s weak in space and against the pass, but can fill the run . . . Safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis need no introductions . . . The Patriots did a great job limiting superb end Haloti Ngata in the AFC Championship game. They doubled Ngata on 16 of 29 pass plays, and on 4 of 17 against the run. Holdout guard Brian Waters and now-right guard Dan Connolly (at center last year) took turns handling Ngata one-on-one . . . The Ravens are relying on two young players, Albert McClellan (undrafted in 2010) and second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, to pick up the immense slack left by Suggs at right outside linebacker after he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Both players struggled against the run in the opener against the Bengals but improved to keep Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to 3.2 yards per carry on Sunday . . . Upshaw started on the other side against the Eagles when Paul Kruger was sidelined with a back injury . . . Lardarius Webb is a burgeoning star at left cornerback, but on the other side, Cary Williams has been picked on . . . Jimmy Smith is the nickel.
Tucker hit field goals of 56, 51, and 46 yards against the Eagles . . . Jones and rookie Deonte Thompson have managed punts and kickoffs.