FOXBORO – The Ravens say it’s to their advantage not having to
worry about defending Randy Moss today. Veteran linebacker Ray
Lewis, in fact, claimed last week the Ravens were relieved not
having to plot and devise schemes around the mere presence of the
future Hall of Fame receiver.
”I say that because that deep ball (he can catch),” Lewis said
of Moss. ”No matter if you have great coverage on them or not,
he’s going to make a play. You don’t prepare differently for them,
but you do prepare (knowing) you’re not playing against Randy Moss.
And that’s always huge.”
Even more huge is how the Patriots plan on adjusting and
moving forward without the man who had 50 touchdown catches in
three-plus seasons. That’s the biggest question and curiousity
factor surrounding today’s AFC showdown at Gillette Stadium against
the 4-1 Ravens.
While Bill Belichick & Co. claimed all last week the
playbook would remain the same, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a
few new wrinkles sprinkled in to try and throw off the Ravens’
highly-ranked defense. The same held when the team lost running
back Kevin Faulk and had to find creative ways to replace the skill
set he provided the offense.
Now we come to this crossroads, and what better opponent to see
how life after Moss will evolve than the Ravens, arguably the best
team in the NFL right now.
In the days leading up to the game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh
actually expressed a little trepidation because his defense doesn’t
exactly know what it’s preparing for given the trade of Moss.
They’re sitting back, somewhat in suspense, wondering just how the
Pats are going to tweek their offense after subtracting Moss and
adding Deion Branch.
Even having former Pats defensive coordinator Dean Pees in camp
as the linebackers coach won’t help. He never practiced against a
Moss-less offense. So the Patriots clearly have the element of
mystery on their side. There’s no game film yet for the Ravens to
study tendencies. They come in essentially wondering what the Pats
are going to do without Moss providing a deep threat. Generally, if
you have a defense guessing, that works in your favor.
”We don’t know what (their passing game) is because we haven’t
seen it yet,” Harbaugh said. ”That’s tough for us. 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.”
Belichick and play-caller Bill O’Brien have had extra time to
sort out the mechanisms and machinations of the offense thanks to
the bye week. Usually if you give Belichick two weeks, he’s going
to find a way to beat you, as evidenced by his 8-2 regular-season
record – including seven straight wins – following a bye.
They’ve had time to figure out what to do to try to combat the
fact they no longer have Moss occupying two defenders, which was
the case against most defenses.
Will they put second-year receiver Brandon Tate out wide and
have him try to emulate Moss’ role? Will it be Branch, who played
on the outside in Seattle? Or will they just bag it, knowing they
really don’t have someone to make up for Moss’ skill set?
And what of Tom Brady’s former go-to-guy Branch? Maybe, they’ll
go with dualing slot receivers on opposite sides, with Branch and
Wes Welker in their four-wide sets. Then there’s the Aaron
Hernandez puzzle. Will he line up like a tight end or a receiver?
Right now, the Ravens don’t have a clue where the Pats are going
with this offense.
”I think it’s important for all the guys to be able to do
different things in the offense and provide different threats so
that they can’t just say, `OK, well this guy is only going to catch
these types of passes,’ ” Brady said Wednesday. ”I think one
thing that’s great about our offense is that if they’re open,
they’re going to get the ball. I think they all know that. You line
them up in different spots, and if they can get open, you throw it
to them. If you can’t, you throw it to the next guy. I know one of
those guys is going to be open. It’s my job to find them.”
Alge Crumpler didn’t want to give away any secrets, but did
throw out a word of caution when it came to the Ravens not knowing
what was coming at them.
”Ray Lewis has a good feel for our offense, and they’re a great
adjustment team,” Crumpler said. ”They’ll find ways to close the
door when the time comes. I just think it’s very imperative for us
to get off to a fast start. Hey, as long as our wrinkles create
points, I’m all for it.”
Karen Guregian breaks down today’s matchup:
Defense – Ravens
Special teams – Patriots
Passing – Patriots
Rushing – Ravens
Coaching – Patriots
The skinny: Bill Belichick’s post-bye 8-2 record is hard to
ignore. Also factor in wanting to avenge last year’s beat down, and
the Moss-less Pats find a way to win.