by Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
October 3, 2009

Last week’s win against Atlanta brought media pundits and some fans back from the brink. All the attention is back on the exciting potential of the Patriots offense, and the surprisingly un-mediocre play of their much berated defense. This week’s opponent will pose the greatest challenge yet and it will be exciting to see if this Patriots team can continue to improve.

1) Tom Brady vs. the Pass Rush

The Pats have such a potent attack that there is no way to defend against all of their weapons. So, one of the main keys to Patriots success is to keep the opposing defenses honest. If the Ravens over-commit to the blitz, which they surely will if Rex Ryan’s Jets game plan is any indication, then Tom Brady needs to get the ball out quickly to his receivers. If he continues to improve his delivery and Wes Welker comes back, then it should make for an exciting game.

2) Patriots Receivers vs. Ravens Corners

In addition to the blitz, the Ravens will try to discombobulate the timing of the Pats’ precision air attack by bumping their receivers on the line. The Jets had good corners that were able to play man coverage against the Pats in Week 2, and they seriously hindered the effectiveness of the Pats screen passes and slants. The Ravens play a similar scheme, except that they have better personnel and a more proven track record. This is certainly a cause for concern, but that’s why it’s such a great matchup. Not every game can be a cake-walk.

3) Patriots Run vs. Ravens Linebackers

As evidenced last week against the Falcons, when the Patriots utilize all of their offensive weapons they can suffocate the other team. The Patriots dominated the time of possession battle, wore out the opposing defense, and prevented the Atlanta offense from getting the touches it needed to outscore the Pats. All this was a result of a well balanced attack which was spearheaded by Fred Taylor’s elusive runs. Although this was accomplished against a porous defense, it was still a confidence builder and a step in the right direction. If the Pats can establish some sort of running game that would extend the time of possession and give the Pats defense a breather, then the vaunted Ravens will be in a considerable amount of trouble.

4) Ravens Receivers vs. Patriots Secondary

Against the Falcons, the Patriots focused on neutralizing Tony Gonzalez with great coverage throughout the secondary, especially on third downs. As a result, Gonzalez had 1 catch and Matt Ryan had to throw the ball away on 2 key third downs. Subsequently, Belichick gave out game balls to Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriweather. This week the Patriots secondary has to compete against the Stormin’ Mormon, Todd Heap, and a relatively weak Ravens receiving corps. If the Patriots secondary plays up to its capabilities, it will shut down Kelley Washington, a former Patriot special teamer, and the aging Derrick Mason. This will force the now potent Ravens offense to become one dimensional.

5) Ravens Running Backs vs. Patriots D-line

Nobody is denying that Baltimore has a great running attack with Willis McGahee and Ray Rice in the backfield. However, if the Patriots neutralize Todd Heap and the other receivers, the Patriots will be able to focus on stuffing the run much like they did against the Falcons’ Turner. I see a similar defensive strategy utilized against the Ravens as against the Falcons. The fans will just have to wait and see if the last week’s success will be replicated against one of AFC’s best teams.