PATRIOTS GAME DAY PREVIEW;THE TOP FIVE QUESTIONS FACING THE PATRIOTS TODAY

FOXBORO – The last time the

Patriots saw today’s opponent, the

Ravens were laughing with their own fans who had taken over

Gillette Stadium, celebrating a blowout playoff win that ended the

home team’s season.

No wonder there has been a heightened interest for today’s

rematch. The goal is not only to wash away a painful memory that

haunted them into the offseason, but to create a better one this

time.

The problem is that the Ravens can play. With a tough defense, a

varied offense and a top-of-the-mountain swagger, Baltimore is

primed to make a move into the NFL’s elite.

”They make you earn everything,” coach Bill Belichick said.

”We’re going to have to do a lot better job than we did against

them last year in the playoff game to be competitive.”

Here are five questions the

Patriots must answer to do so:

1. Can the

Patriots block big Ravens nose

tackle Haloti Ngata?

Officially, he is just one player. But the Ravens’ man in the

middle is listed at 6-foot-4, 350 pounds, and he’s likely bigger

than that. Few players in the NFL are as disruptive as Ngata, who

also possesses the ability to drop into coverage. Center Dan Koppen

will have his hands full with Ngata, though he’ll likely receive

help from guards Dan Connolly and Stephen Neal. If the

Patriots can’t successfully move

him, there will be little to no space for BenJarvus Green-Ellis,

Danny Woodhead and others.

2. Will Tom Brady be able to take advantage of the Ravens

DBs?

Without perennial Pro Bowler Ed Reed on the field, the advantage

swings to Brady. Sure, safety Tom Zbikowski has filled in

admirably, but Baltimore defensive backs could use Reed’s

influence. At times, they have struggled with their pass drops, not

getting as deep as they need to. If Brady can sell a play-action

fake to bring them up to the line, he might be able to throw over

them, even without Randy Moss. Brady must avoid another three-pick

performance like last year’s playoff game.

3. Speaking of Moss, how much will the Pats offense really

change?

Belichick has downplayed any potential changes to an offense

that no longer features Moss. On Friday, he noted that defenses no

longer double-teamed Moss as much as they used to, an indication

that the adjustment might not be as difficult as some think. The

player most affected by the move figures to be Wes Welker, who

could find smaller spaces to roam. Perhaps the safety is a few

steps closer to the line. But the biggest difference would be that

Brady now has the opportunity to spread the ball around to the

receiver who used to be his favorite: the open one.

4. Can the Pats `D’ be able to make the Ravens offense

one-dimensional?

If the

Patriots allow them to run the ball,

Baltimore will do so. Again and again. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee

will attack the

Patriots defensive front seven, with

even fullback Le’Ron McClain contributing in short-yardage

situations. If the

Patriots don’t stop the running

game, the Ravens can keep Joe Flacco to about 15 pass attempts. But

if the Pats can sell out early and clamp down on rushing

opportunities, Flacco will be put in the uncomfortable scenario of

having to win the game. That’s an advantage for the Pats.

5. Does Belichick have more bye week magic?

While the Ravens spent last week thumping the Broncos, the

Patriots coaches were able to have

a few extra days to work on their game plan. That might be the best

news of all. Belichick is 8-2 coming off bye weeks, and he’ll need

a super scheme to knock off the formidable Ravens. Does Belichick

have one more in him? If he can confuse Flacco enough into turning

the ball over, that’s a start.