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2016 Season Blog.

Pat Vs Ravens.

7-Things-For-Sunday: Part II.

By TOM

Greetings Pats Fans,

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Playoff Preview.

By TOM

2. Who?- Maybe the biggest surprise of the entire NFL season has been the Ravens Defense. "We won [the last time we played the Ravens," McCourty said. "That's it. I mean it was a tough game. We were down 14 twice but just kept playing. [We were just] able to make some plays offensively and defensively that really decided that game, but a little bit different teams on both sides personnel-wise. So we'll see if that even has any bearing on this one." Their pass defense sucked last season.

I think they actually went from worst to first in pass defense this season. "Dean [Pees'] background is primarily in the secondary so they're well-schooled back there, good fundamentals," BB said. "They give you a number of different coverage looks: single-high, split-safety, man-pressure, zone-pressure. So they do a good job of mixing it up, making it hard for you to really get a real consistent read on what they're going to do. They're going to play a number of different things and you're going to have to block them, figure it out, and get the ball to the open guy. It won't necessarily be an easy read for the quarterback or for the receivers in terms of route adjustments and things like that." And we know they always put something extra into games against the Pats.

They are only giving up 222-yards passing per game, which is not easy to do now a days. "I think all these games are kind of the same," Brady said. "I just look at the opponent, look at what they do, and the only thing that matters is what they do this week in practice and in the game. I think you just try to put everything aside and whether it was that or whether it was a playoff game a couple of years ago or whether it was a regular season game a couple of years ago or championship games, I mean, none of those really matter. It's really going to be about what this team does this week and like I said, Coach has tried to put a lot of urgency on that. We understand that, we know we're facing a team that's 7-5. They're at the top of their division. They have a lot of confidence in what they do and so do we. So it's going to be a good, tough matchup." They're winning with defense this season.

Dumervil is back from injury, and he is making Suggs more effective as well. When you have two great passrushers it makes it much harder to focus on one. When you can hit the quarterback you can disrupt the Offense. The Pats O-Tackles are going to have to have their best games of the season this week.

Suggs and Dumervil make a lethal combo in the rush. "He's had a good career, another good career," BB said. "Yeah, he's a strong, explosive guy, instinctive, makes a lot of instinctive plays, anticipation to see something and does the right thing. [He] plays good in critical situations, big in big games, big situations." They have been getting to the QB this season.

One of the reasons the Pats have been building their run game this season is for tough games like this one. "It's been pretty amazing what he's been able to accomplish to come back from his injury last season," Brady said about Blount. "He was having a great year for us last year and then got injured, but this year he's been so consistent, dependable. He's running the ball great, long runs. He looks very decisive. He's catching the ball whenever we throw it to him, so he's been a great factor for our team. We've got a great backfield." Blount leads the NFL in rushing TDs with 13.

Blount is 9th in the NFL in rushing with 957 yards. "I think he's had an incredible year just in productivity, rushing yards, touchdowns," Brady said. "Every time we hand the ball off to him, something great is happening. He has a lot of confidence in the guys up front and what they're doing for him. You've got to have confidence in the offensive line when you're a running back because when you're taking that ball downhill with a full head of steam, you've got to believe that the hole is going to open, and he hits it hard. He's just had an incredibly consistent year for us from the start of the year all the way on to last week. We're going to keep needing it. It's a big part of the reason we've been successful whether it's been in the run game, pass game, blitz pick-up, I mean, all of those backs have really played well for us." Minimally, they need Blount to surpass a 1,000-yards on the season to win this game.

They like to run him inside, and at the DE/Edgerushers to slow them down a little. "He's had some big games this time of year," Brady said. "It's tough if you get wet weather or cold weather. It certainly gets harder to tackle, and he's hard to tackle anyway given that he's 250 pounds. It's tough to bring him down. You've got to be able to win in a lot of different styles this time of year. You don't get too many great days to throw the ball, so you've got to be able to be multi-dimensional and to hand it off to him and then to force that defense to tackle him is a big challenge." Smash-smash-smash, they are going to need him to put a hurt on Suggs and Dumervil.

It is bad weather now, but the weather conditions are not supposed to be as bad come game time, just some typical New England wet cold. However,it should be in the low 20s by the 2nd half, with winds gusting up to 20-MPH. That is going to slow the passing game down for both teams.

The Ravens have only been giving up about 74 rushing yards a game. "I mean [Brandon] Williams is a big, strong guy," BB said. "I mean, he's not tall but he's a short, thick guy along the lines of Vince, that type of player. So yeah, there's some pocket push there but he's a hard guy to block in the running game with [Michael] Pierce kind of the different but kind of the same thing. [Timmy] Jernigan's a pretty athletic kid. He can play three-technique, can play out on the guard, can play inside, runs well, has good quickness. I'd say he's a little different than those guys." They like their D-line big, mean, and ugly, and have done a good job drafting those players.

They are tough to run against. "They have a lot of good players," BB said. "They're big up front. They do a good job of defeating blocks and getting penetration. It's a hard group to block. They do a good job of setting the edge with Suggs, [Albert] McClellan, Za'Darius Smith and those guys. They're tough to handle. Their linebackers are fast. They run well: [Zachary] Orr, McClellan, and Mosley. So it's hard to outrun those guys. They're kind of big and stout inside with the defensive line and fast with the linebackers and they play good technique. They're well-coached. They mix in some perimeter plays. The secondary blitzers, the secondary run-force players that you have to account for do a good job of mixing it up. They do a good job. They're well-coached, good fundamentals on the defensive line. They use their hands well, hard to block." This could turn into a vicious cold weather ground attack.

The Pats have the advantage on the ground, as the Ravens run game stinks this year. They are rotating in three RBs, because none of them has taken charge. They are 28th in yards rushing so far this season. They struggle almost as much running in the Redzone, and are 29th in YPC. The run game should be the deciding factor in the 2nd half of this game.

This is a Playoff defense that has been producing turnovers all season long. "I think they're very opportunistic," BB said. "They take advantage of opponent's mistakes. They've been able to hit the quarterback and they've got good instinctive players in the secondary. Webb and Weddle do a great job of finding the ball and getting around the ball. Their corners are instinctive. Their linebackers have good range: Mosley, McClellan. But if you don't take care of the ball they get it off of you. They do a good job of raking the ball out and taking advantage of poor ball security situations by the quarterback, or running backs, or receivers, whoever's carrying it, [like] tight ends." So the Pats have to have top ball security to win this game, and in the Playoffs.

3. The QB Is Back- The biggest dilemma the defense is going to face in the Playoffs is that they will suddenly be playing against winning QBs, not the flotsam and jetsam we have been playing against. Your tired, you poor 49ers QBs. Your huddled QBs of the Browns yearning to be free. The homeless, tempest-tost QBs of the Rams. The wretched refuse of the Jets QBs. They do not lift their lamps beside the golden door of the Playoffs. When you add in cold weather, Playoff winning QB, and team defense. This is the first real Playoff type test for this team this season.

The Pats have to play with their Playoff grit in this game. "We play a lot of tough games every year and we’ve had to go up there a good amount late in the season, in the playoffs," Flacco said. "I think that gives you a sense of confidence to go up there and get the job done. When you haven’t experienced it much, I think they’re a team that can intimidate some people. I don’t think that’s us." Luckily for the Pats it won't be their last test this regular season.

Going to Denver is going to test this team as well this week. Sometimes having to face so many bad QBs hurts defenses in the Playoffs. The defense has been giving up yards but not TDs. That can change in the flick of a  Playoff winning QBs' wrist. The defense has to use December to start getting used to playing the best teams at the highest level.

December is different from the rest of the season. "[It's the] urgency of everyone starting with the coaches, from the older guys on the team, because it's what you come into," McCourty said. "When you get here it's the first thing you hear about right after Thanksgiving and you continue to hear it week in and week out. I think addressing it and talking about it gives you a chance to go out there and try to play your best football, and like you said, last year, but it's something that you have to do every week. Just talking about it doesn't mean that it's automatically going to happen but I think it gives you a chance and then it's up to the guys to go out there each day in practice and try to get better at a time in the season when some people are just trying to get by and hurting and it's a long season and you have to really mentally try to do those things which is tough this time of year." The weather turns frightful, and so do the defenses and QBs.

The Ravens know this game is special as well. "We do appreciate it. I talked to the guys a little bit about that today, just briefly, because it’s really just about the game we’re going to play," Flacco said. "We’re glad to be in this game. We’re glad we’ve earned the right to play a meaningful game in December, most especially against the team we’re about to play, because they’re always in that position. We’re glad to be in this position. We’re excited about Monday night. We’re excited to go play the game." They are trying to prepare themselves for the Playoffs as well.

This is the big time rival that both teams get up for. "There is some kind of feeling that is in the building when we go up and play [in Foxboro]," Harbaugh said. "I think the bigger thing is just the excitement that is naturally here because of the position that we are in. A lot of the players in there have grown up, and they have had no choice but to watch the New England Patriots play football late in the year, so they kind of know what it means. I am sure they will be extra excited to go up there and do that, play against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. It is an exciting thing." Both teams are facing Playoff winning QBs this week.

4. New Singings!- With Gronk out, and Amendola gone until the Playoffs (hopefully he'll be back in January), the Pats signed another guy this week. "Yeah, we haven't seen much of anything from him," BB said about Griff Whalen. "We'll see how it goes. We'll see how he works into our receiver situation. I don't know. We'll see." I remember liking him at Stanford (if that is the guy I'm thinking about).

He is a guy they need to step into the Amendola role, and maybe return punts. "I would say there are some returners out there," BB said. "I mean, he hasn't had a ton of production as a returner but he has returned. Again, we'll see." He has some experience in the League and could last as an emergency player until the Playoffs.

If he can last more than a week. "Yeah, I mean certainly there are a lot fewer moving parts on that," BB said about signing Griff. "Yeah, you're halfway there [Oh-oh! Livin' on a prayer]" He had 45 catches for almost 500-yards and 3 TDs in 2013 for the Colts.

They have incorporated a lot of players onto their roster this season. "That's a tough question. Each player is different. Sometimes those players are forced in I would say kind of before you want to put them in or before they're really ready based on need, injuries, whatever," BB said. "Sometimes they're not. Sometimes it takes guys a little while to really get a grasp of it and then they can take it and run with it. Some guys get it right away and maybe kind of never really rise much above that. Some guys get it right away and they take it and run with it. Some guys have trouble getting it or it's just not a clean fit for whatever reason.

"I think each player is different and each situation is a little bit different. When you bring a guy in during the season it's a lot different than drafting a player or signing a player in free agency because at this point, or a few weeks ago, whatever point it was, you bring a guy into your team and your team is already formed. Everybody has a certain number of roles and they're I'd say identified, and then you bring a player in and you project him into a certain role or competing for a certain role. It's a lot more specific. It's different than at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of training camp when kind of everybody's out there doing everything and seeing how it all unfolds. This is much more specific.

"Even if you were to claim a player, if you had a couple of injuries or something and you signed a player to come in at that position, again, it would be very specific. 'Here's what this player would be doing at this position. This would be his role. This is what we have to try to get him ready for this week or in the next couple of weeks.' It's just different. Again, it's just different than any other process where you're starting kind of from square-one. You're on a little bit of an even playing field and everybody's going at roughly the same pace with sort of the same opportunity. This is much more specific." They have traded and pick up more players this year than I ever remember.

A great example of doing it successfully has been Kyle Van Noy, who has hit the QB every game he has played in so far. "I mean, he started off well. I think he started off well right away. He came in and learned things and picked things up. Again, with a player like Kyle part of it is just getting to know him, getting to work with him, getting to know what things he does well, things he picks up on quickly, things that are instinctive to him and maybe things that he hasn't done before," BB said (I apologetic to all the non-football geeks, because this is going to be a long one). "Particularly with a player like Kyle who played primarily at the end of the line at college and played off of the line at Detroit, didn't rush very much at Detroit, and then we saw him in a little bit of a different role here. Not unlike McClellin, who played on the line and then played off the line in Chicago and then has played on the line and now a little bit off the line for us.

"But again, he's been here longer. It's been a little bit of a process, so guys like that that are on-the-line or off-the-line players. Part of it is you have them here and you're not even 100-percent sure where the guy is going to play. We had that with Ayers a couple of years ago. Going back, Rosey Colvin was like that. He was an off-the-line player for the Bears and he was an on-the-line player for us.

"So with guys like that you can see why he doesn't fit in maybe with another situation. You project him a little bit differently in your situation but you don't know exactly how that's going to go either. Some of it is trial and error and learning and getting a feel for him and getting a feel for what we do. Maybe that's something that he can relate to or maybe it's something new that he has to get more experience with.

"I think the assistant coaches, like Brian Flores in this case, a lot of that really falls to the position coach to teach the player the basics of what we're doing. We can't get into everything because some of it we're just too far down the road on. But the basics he needs to know: get into those, work with the player, get feedback from the player, practice him, see how he acclimates to the things he's been asked to do, how well he can do them on the practice field, and maybe how that carries over into the game.

"The same thing with our special teams coach with Joe and Bubba: what positions has he played, wherever we need him to play, how is all of that going and those are the guys that really are the hands-on that spend a lot of time with those players that really give good feedback as to I think not saying a year from now, but for right now ‘I think this guy is this,' or ‘I think this guy is more of that,' or ‘We want him to do these two things. I think he's going to be able to do this one really well. I'm not sure about this other one. It's going to take a little more time,' or whatever it happens to be." We really need Van Noy to take over the Jamie Collins role in the spots where Hightower can't.

We really need him to take on the passrushing roles in the Playoff that we lost with Mr. Jones and Collins gone. "I mean, all of the guys that are in linebacker roles or even safety roles or sometimes defensive end roles are prepared to communicate or do anything on the field that depending on packages or the situation or whatever the case may be," Patricia said. "Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we're doing and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language. It's like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it's just learning the vernacular and the verbiage and making sure that you can correlate it to either what you've done before, or if there is any sort of relation that you can draw between things that you've run in the past. So that's a big part of it.

"Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there's a lot of: calls and adjustments, things like that that we've got to do on the field. That's a big step and we're trying to just push forward and get better with that and I think just getting to know him a little bit better.

"He's extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game. He's very cerebral: he'll ask a lot of questions, he really wants to understand what we're doing and why, which is great. We're trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that. So that's really good.

"Then on top of that he's trying to obviously learn our techniques and the way that we want to play from a fundamental standpoint too. Which varies from system to system, scheme to scheme, coach to coach. So just trying to get all that technique work down also. You know, just continually trying to work in that forward kind of progress and hopefully just try to keep improving." Sheard also needs to step up and starting hitting the QB in December, and especially in the Playoffs.

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