PATRIOTS GAME DAY PREVIEW;PATRIOTS BEAT;NEW OFFENSE A MYSTERY TO RAVENS;Moss-less Pats could hold

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.”

THE CHECKLIST

Karen Guregian breaks down today’s matchup:

Checkmark to:

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.

Score:

Patriots 24, Ravens 20.