Time to check in with Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun to get the lowdown on the Ravens ahead of the Sunday night showdown:
1. What should we expect from the new OLBs/DEs, and who do you think will be out there?
AW: “The realistic expectation from strongside outside linebacker Albert McClellan, rush outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger and left defensive end Pernell McPhee is steady progress based on their last game. McClellan set the edge physically against the Philadelphia Eagles and his confidence is growing. Upshaw has gotten down to nearly 270 pounds and is moving around better after reporting at over 280 pounds and flunking the conditioning test initially at training camp before passing it on his second try. Kruger is coming off a back injury, but is slated to have a situational role working in tandem with Upshaw rushing the passer. Kruger has good quickness and is solid in pass coverage, but needs to be more stout against the run. Upshaw is expected to start his second consecutive game after a solid game against Michael Vick. McPhee had six sacks as a rookie last year, but has been hampered by a right knee injury after undergoing arthroscopic surgery during the spring. He has been wearing a heavy knee brace for the past few weeks.”
2. Who is the one Ravens player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
AW: “Jacoby Jones. Jones beat press coverage against Nnamdi Asomugha for one touchdown that counted as he executed a textbook double-move pattern. And he beat him again on a touchdown nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty. Jones isn’t a household name, but he can play. He’s 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and has retained a lot of his speed from his days growing up in New Orleans as a track and field standout before going to tiny Lane College. Jones’s consistency isn’t always there due to occasional lapses in concentration, but he’s very physically talented.”
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
AW: “They are vulnerable at left tackle with Michael Oher against speed rushers. He allowed a sack and forced fumble against Eagles defensive end Trent Cole last week. Oher is quick and has a powerful hand punch, but usually allows at least one sack per game.”
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
AW: “The Ravens are susceptible to big plays. They’ve already allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more, including a 49-yard reception to DeSean Jackson last week. They have trouble containing tight ends like Brent Celek and Rob Gronkowski because the linebackers aren’t very good in pass coverage, including 37-year-old middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Bernard Pollard is an enforcer at strong safety, but doesn’t make many plays on the football. Free safety Ed Reed’s instincts are still there, but his durability is always something to keep an eye on. After the big play, the Ravens are uncharacteristically vulnerable against the run this season. Other than forcing turnovers and preventing opponents from piling up points, this doesn’t look like a traditional Ravens defense as they rank 27th after two games. Cornerback Cary Williams called that ranking “horrible and unacceptable,” but you are what you are in the NFL as people tend to say too much.”
5. Finally, Ravens win on Sunday if….
AW: “If they contain Tom Brady and Gronkowski, are stingy against the run and slow down Stevan Ridley and if they decide what they want to be offensively, a no-huddle, up-tempo offense the way they were the first week or a smash-mouth outfit with Ray Rice and Vonta Leach. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been indecisive at times. And the short-yardage approach was bad last week as they failed to convert any of their third-down and fourth-down situations.”