Aaron Wilson previews today's Ravens-Patriots game
As the Ravens (8-6) square off with the New England Patriots (10-4) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, here's Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson's checklist of key areas and people to watch.
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1. Will the Ravens' running game make an impact?( December 21, 2013 )
Given that quarterback Joe Flacco's game could be affected by his sprained left knee, the Ravens need to gain traction through their running game.
That's normally a tall order since the Ravens rank 29th in the NFL in rushing offense and are averaging only 82.9 rushing yards per game, but the Patriots have been vulnerable against the run this season.
With defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo on injured reserve, the Patriots have fallen to 31st in the league in run defense and are surrendering 132.5 yards on the ground per game.
When Ravens running back Ray Rice played against the Chicago Bears, now the worst run defense in the NFL and ranked 31st in a November overtime win over Baltimore in Chicago, the three-time Pro Bowl selection rushed for a season-high 131 yards.
Rice averaged 4.7 yards per carry against the Detroit Lions, rushing for 56 yards on 12 carries. He's rushed for more than 50 yards in consecutive games for the first time this season, but has gained only 605 yards and scored four touchdowns while averaging 3.1 yards per carry.
Rice isn't 100 percent due to a quadriceps injury and is listed as questionable, but he downplayed the ailment. Rice is expected to start and have his normal workload.
"I feel better every day," Rice said. "It's not bad at all. Trust me, I would know if it's bad. I'm smart enough, it's late in the year, to take care of things obviously. No alarming threats."
Although the Patriots have had to adjust to the losses of Wilfork and Mayo, they've still made some timely stops behind linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower.
"They've got that bend-but-don't-break kind of deal," Rice said. "Needless to say, they've always been tough. It's a fight-to-the-end type of group. They make the plays they need to make in clutch situations. Much respect to them. It's another week of grinding again."