Which Ravens team will show up Saturday in New England?

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs celebrates with fans after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will he celebrate Saturday in New England?
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs celebrates with fans after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will he celebrate Saturday in New England? (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Late Saturday evening, the Ravens are either going to have a coming out or a farewell party.

It's hard to predict which because the Ravens did not hit a high level of consistency in the 2014 regular season, causing a lot of apprehension around town.


Will we see the Ravens team that lost to Houston with a quarterback who was unemployed and out deer hunting the week before, or the Ravens that physically dismantled Pittsburgh in an AFC wild-card playoff game last Saturday?

No one knows for sure.

All the side stories are irrelevant. It really doesn't matter that the Patriots have been highly successful at home or have dominated the Ravens in regular season play, or that the Ravens have a one-game edge over New England in their playoff series.

The real mystery here is not whether Baltimore has bragging rights over Boston for Edgar Allan Poe, but are the Ravens for real?

This matchup of No. 1 vs No. 6 wouldn't be so intriguing except that the Ravens beat Pittsburgh, 30-17, a team some experts predicted might be the Cinderella story of the AFC. In that game, the Ravens had five sacks and held the Steelers, minus star running back Le'Veon Bell, to 68 yards rushing.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 18 of 29 passes for 259 yards, and the Ravens were fearless in going downfield and attacking Pittsburgh's defense.

You had to ask, who were these masked men from Baltimore?

Yet at the same time, we've seen this act before. The Ravens have dominated teams such as Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay, only to lose to Pittsburgh once, Cincinnati twice, and San Diego, and then struggle in victories over Cleveland, New Orleans and Jacksonville.

Every team struggles during the course of the season, but receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith, as well as quarterback Joe Flacco and the running game, have disappeared for weeks. In the case of the secondary, that unit has been absent without leave most of the season.

The Ravens played a strong game against Miami in a 28-13 win on Dec. 7, but then struggled the next three weeks until the playoff game in Pittsburgh.

Will they disappear again? There is every reason to believe they might. The Ravens just came off a very physical game and they are on the road again. Their receivers don't match up well against New England cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and New England has a strong short passing game, one that can nullify the Ravens pass rush.

"This is not a, 'We're happy to be here,'" Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. "This is more of a situation we earned. We worked extremely hard in the offseason. Some things didn't go 100 percent the way we wanted them to go through the whole regular season, but we worked hard enough to put ourselves in this situation, and it's up to the players to take advantage of that."

It's not mission impossible. The offensive line has been the Achilles heel of the Patriots, so the Ravens might be able to get some pressure on quarterback Tom Brady. It's not like they have to sack him, but get Brady to move off his spot where he is most comfortable.

Every quarterback has his own distinct throwing motion and built-in escape route. With Indianapolis's Andrew Luck, he likes to take one or two steps up in the pocket. According to Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers likes to take one or two steps to his left or right which allows him to run through the "B" gaps if he needs to scramble.


Brady just drops back, plants the back foot and fires.

"It's rare that a quarterback throws like that," said Pees. "That's why if you can pressure him or get in his face and force him to move side to side, it might make him a little uncomfortable."

The other key is stopping tight end Rob Gronkowski. Besides catching 82 passes for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, he is a force in the running game. There is no tight end as big or as fast.

The Ravens will probably have to bracket him. They need to jam him coming off the line of scrimmage with a linebacker or safety, and then double him with a safety once he gets into the pattern.

"You have to squeeze him," said Bart Scott, a former Ravens linebacker now working as an analyst for CBS. "You have to interrupt him at the line of scrimmage, cause problems in his timing with Brady. But with that said, you're going to need a shutdown cornerback to pull that off because that cornerback will be left alone."

When told the Ravens had no shutdown corner, Scott replied: "They need to put Lardarius Webb in a coma or trance, then slap and wake him up and tell him he was the Webb of two or three years ago."

When the Patriots need a short pass, receiver Julian Edelman is the answer. When they need a play, Gronkowski's number is usually called. The Ravens haven't played a team of this caliber all year because they failed to make the playoffs last season, and they got an easier schedule compared to 2013.

Now, it will be interesting to see which Ravens team shows up Saturday. Are they that good, or just another pretender from the AFC North?

"They can win, but it's going to be a long, long grind," Scott said.

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