3TFO: Patriots @ Ravens, Week 16
While this weekend’s 2012 AFC Championship rematch may not have the star power that the NFL schedule makers originally intended, the games outcome will have drastic implications for both the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots let a golden opportunity to both win their division, and to take the top seed in the AFC, slip away last weekend during their loss to divisional rival Miami. The Patriots have yet to clinch a playoff spot, meaning that the next two weeks will be critical for the team. Baltimore, despite a difficult start to the season, can win their division by winning out. Nothing is guaranteed for either team at this point, and this weekend’s game is shaping up to be another classic between the two AFC rivals.
Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon vs. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil
While the Patriots interior offensive line has been disappointing in 2013, they have received excellent play from their offensive tackles. The team suffered a major loss when they lost star tackle Sebastian Vollmer to injury, but Marcus Cannon has been solid as his replacement. Cannon has a positive grade in pass protection in each of his past five games since replacing Vollmer, and has yet to surrender a sack during that time. Nate Solder has been excellent for New England this year, and he currently holds the eighth best grade among all offensive tackles with a +21.5 mark. Solder left the game last week with a head injury, so expect guard Logan Mankins to fill in for him at tackle again this week if he is unable to play.
Baltimore took full advantage of Denver’s issues with fax machines in the offseason, by pouncing on surprise free agent Elvis Dumervil quickly. Dumervil has combined with incumbent linebacker Terrell Suggs to form one of the league’s most fearsome pairs of edge rushers. Each ranks in the top 15 in grading at their position, and Dumervil has thrived as a pass rushing specialist. The former Bronco leads all 3-4 OLB’s with a 15.8 Pass Rushing Productivity, and ranks second at the position with a +25.6 overall grade. Suggs has done his best work in the run game, leading his position with a 12.1 Run Stop Percentage, but can also bring the heat on passing downs as his nine sacks attest. Suggs has never attempted to hide his disdain for Tom Brady, and has surely had this game circled on his calendar for months.
Baltimore Running Offense vs. New England Run Defense
This matchup is a classic case of “someone has to win.” Ray Rice has been a huge disappointment this season, and his -16.6 grade is more than double that of our second lowest graded running back. Rice has broken just nine tackles on rushes this season, and has the worst Elusive Rating of any running back. Baltimore’s ineffective running game can not only be placed on Rice’s shoulders however. The Ravens have the third-worst cumulative run blocking grade of any team this year. Michael Oher (-15.7) and A.Q. Shipley (-10.2) have been terrible in the run game this season, and center Gino Gradkowski has the worst cumulative grade (-19.4) of any center in the NFL.
New England’s run defense has completely fallen apart due to injuries to key players in the front seven. Only Chicago has given up more yards on the ground than the Patriots in 2013. Defensive tackle has been an issue since starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were lost for the year, especially versus the run. Rookie Chris Jones currently has the worst run defense grade at his position, and fellow rookie Joe Vellano has seen his playing time drop drastically in recent weeks. Vellano has been replaced in the lineup by Sealver Siliga, who has a +2.6 run defense grade over the past three weeks. Rice runs between the tackles more than any other back, making the play of New England’s interior line even more important this week.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola vs. Baltimore Cornerbacks
Now that Rob Gronkowski has been lost for the year, receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have become Brady’s top options at receiver. Each had more than 100 receiving yards last week. Edelman (+9.1 receiving grade) has enjoyed a career year, and has been Brady’s most dependable (and healthy) option this season. Amendola has missed time due to various injuries, but has come on in recent weeks, with a +5.4 grade in his past two games. The duo will have to be at their best this week against a strong Baltimore defense.
Baltimore’s defense has done a fine job yet again this season, but the secondary has been the group’s weak link. Lardarius Webb has yet to return to his pre-injury form, ranking near the bottom of all corners by surrendering 1.63 Yards per Coverage Snap. Opposing quarterbacks currently have a QB Rating of 90.5 when targeting Webb this season. Both Amendola and Edelman do their best work in the slot, which could spell trouble for the Ravens this week. Corey Graham mans the slot for the Ravens, and has not had a great year. Graham’s QB Rating against of 121.0 is the third worst among slot corners, and his 1.19 Yards per Cover Snap allowed is in the bottom 15 of that group. The key to beating New England is stopping Tom Brady, meaning that this matchup against his top weapons will be paramount on Sunday.