Patriots bound to throw something new at Ravens
FOXBOROUGH — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison had four games’ worth of film from this season to go through as they prepared for Sunday’s meeting with the Patriots.
One problem: The offense the Ravens will face this time could look quite different from the one on those tapes.
Wide receiver Randy Moss, who had to be accounted for at all times, often by two players, was part of those first four games, plus the 52 that preceded them. The same Randy Moss who is now in Minnesota.
Time and again over the last week, the Patriots brain trust has insisted that nothing will change with Moss not in the lineup. But it is impossible to subtract one of the greatest players at his position and not have it affect the offense.
In that way, the Ravens will be guinea pigs of sorts: They will be the first team since Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC Championship game to face a Moss-less New England unit.
And it could provide a bit of an advantage for the Patriots.
Harbaugh acknowledged the element of the unknown yesterday during a conference call when asked if there would be a different look for Tom Brady & Co.
“That’s tough for us,’’ Harbaugh said. “We’re going to come out there, and we’re going to have to defend it for the first time, and everybody else will have a look at where it’s at. But for us, since we don’t get to watch practice, we’re really not going to know what it is until we play them.’’
It isn’t just the play-calling and formations that could be new for the Ravens; though they faced New England twice last year, many of the players who’ll suit up for the Patriots this week weren’t with the team (or active) when last they met. Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Tate, Alge Crumpler — none were on the field for the Patriots in the Ravens’ postseason win in January.
Harbaugh doesn’t anticipate wholesale changes, but he knows that personnel can make an impact.
“I think it will be the same offense,’’ he said. “[But] the personality of the offense sometimes takes a turn with different players that you have playing; it kind of goes in one direction or another.
“I think they’ll run the same plays. They’ll just put guys in position to do the things that they do well. Tight ends have made a big difference for them. Their offense is evolving even with the players that they have, with the young guys.’’
For Brady’s part, he has enough to deal with getting ready for a Baltimore defense that once again is near the top of the NFL rankings in many categories. He’s getting a handle on the Patriots’ game plan — he can’t be bothered to try creating one for Baltimore.
Asked how defenses react to the Patriots offense, he said, “I don’t know. Go ask the guy in Baltimore and come back and tell me what he says.
“I really have no idea how they’re going to see us or what they think they’re going to try to take away, but every defense has its strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s the beautiful thing about football: It’s trying to figure out what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it so you can take advantage.’’
Taking Moss out of the equation will allow Brady to get back to the type of ball-control offense that doesn’t always make the highlight shows, but in which he has shown to be very proficient.
You can call it “dink and dunk’’ if you want, Brady noted, but if dink and dunk equals touchdowns, he’s all for it.
“You throw to the guy that’s open. That’s what I’ve always tried to do,’’ he said. “A guy like Wes [Welker] gets open a lot, so he gets the ball a lot. The guys that get open are going to get the ball.’’
So maybe Brady did provide an answer for Harbaugh and Mattison: Just make sure everyone is covered, from Welker to Hernandez to Gronkowski to Julian Edelman, on every snap.
For a Baltimore team already low on healthy defensive backs, that may be tough to do.