1. OK, here’s what I need to know: how is the Ravens defense, with the injuries they’ve had in the secondary and with the amount of snaps they’ve played the past two weeks, going to keep the Patriots under 30?
AW: “Honestly, they might not be able to hold them under that point total, but here’s how they’ve got a shot to do so:
Second cornerback Corey Graham, a former New Hampshire standout, is playing some really good football right now. He effectively shadowed Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley to pick off Peyton Manning in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. He also alertly returned a Manning interception in the first half for a touchdown. The pass rush has improved markedly since the first game, mostly because pending free agent outside linebacker Paul Kruger has played out of his mind with nine sacks in the regular season and another 2 1/2 in the playoffs. The run defense has been solid, but not great. Unless they get a pass rush on Tom Brady and disrupt the quick game he’s thriving with, they’re going to give up a ton of first downs and field goals. The red-zone defense is extremely stout, so that should help. Overall, though, this looks like a daunting task for the defense.”
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: “Initially, I was going to say Corey Graham, but Patriots fans are knowledgeable and watched the Ravens’ AFC divisional-round victory over the Denver Broncos. I would say rookie backup running back Bernard Pierce, a bruising runner from Temple, if he didn’t have a bad right knee that should limit his effectiveness. So, lets go with inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, an emerging three-down linebacker, a former undrafted free agent from Georgia who’s regarded as a must re-sign for the Ravens in free agency with Ray Lewis retiring.”
3. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
AW: “Right offensive tackle Michael Oher has played better since shifting away from left tackle with Bryant McKinnie elevated from the bench. However, Oher is still vulnerable against quick pass rushers and has allowed some big forced fumbles and sacks this season. He’s also prone to penalties.”
4. What’s the biggest weakness on the Ravens’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
AW: “Middle linebacker Ray Lewis allowed eight receptions for 97 yards on eight targets against the Broncos and six catches for 80 yards on nine targets against the Indianapolis Colts. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is much better against the run than the pass and going forward than backpedaling at this stage of his stellar career. The 37-year-old needs to be blitzing on third downs not covering. Free safety Ed Reed has also lost a step and had zero pass deflections against the Broncos when he was a non-factor in pass coverage. Reed whiffed on a tackle attempt on Demaryius Thomas on a double-screen for a touchdown.”
5. Finally, Ravens pull off the upset and go to the Super Bowl if….
AW: “Tom Brady turns the football over, or Jacoby Jones runs back a kick for a score or Joe Flacco plays a perfect football game.”