Ravens beat reporter Jeff Zrebiec give his scouting report on Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots game. (Baltimore Sun video)
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Joe Flacco finally has found a comfort level in the hurry-up offense with nine touchdown passes and a 71.2 percent completion percentage in the last four games. Flacco's 497 passing attempts are the second most in the NFL behind the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees. The Ravens have had success on slant routes, and Flacco has completed 14 passes to running backs over the past two weeks. The offensive line has allowed just three sacks in the last three games.
PATRIOTS PASSING GAME: Tom Brady has practiced all week, an indication that he's recovered from a recent knee injury. Brady has thrown 19 touchdown passes and one interception in eight games this season and his 113.1 quarterback rating leads the league. The season-ending injury to star tight end Rob Gronkowski hurts, but rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has 17 catches and three touchdowns in the last three games. Brady has been sacked once in the last three games and he doesn't hold the ball long.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: The Ravens still aren't running the ball a whole lot — their 287 runs are the eighth fewest in the NFL — but they've been more productive lately. In their last four games, they are averaging 4.6 yards per carry, a significant improvement from earlier in the year. They also have gained at least 100 rushing yards in three of their past four games. They reached 100 yards just twice through the first eight games. Marshal Yanda's switch to left guard and Vladimir Ducasse playing the right side has seemingly helped.
PATRIOTS RUNNING GAME: This is not a one-dimensional passing offense. The Patriots have 348 rushing attempts this season, the sixth most in the NFL. They rank sixth in rushing yards per game (117.3) and total rushing yards (1,407) and they're tied for third in rushing touchdowns (14). LeGarrette Blount is just 43 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season since his rookie year in 2010. Dion Lewis and James White are threats out of the backfield and nice complements to the bruising Blount.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: There's nobody stopping the run right now any better than the Ravens, who held the Miami Dolphins last week to 62 rushing yards. The Ravens have surrendered a league-low four rushing scores, and it's been six weeks since a running back last scored a touchdown against them. The Patriots don't traditionally go after a team's strength, so this group might not be challenged too much, but they better be ready for LeGarrette Blount, who is fifth in the NFL in rushing.
PATRIOTS RUSH DEFENSE: Brady's weekly brilliance overshadows an extremely solid Patriots defense under coordinator Matt Patricia, who is starting to attract head-coaching buzz. The Patriots are allowing just 94.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 10th in the NFL, and they've given up only six rushing scores. The Patriots haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this year. Linebacker Don't'a Hightower is extremely tough and aggressive, and New England's defensive backs are very active in run support.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Because of good organization on the back end and more speed at linebacker, the Ravens have done a better job this year at defending short passing attacks. But the Patriots, who like to spread defenses out and lean on a quick-hitting passes, will put the Ravens to the test. Slot corners Tavon Young and Jerraud Powers and linebackers C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr will need to hold up in coverage. Getting to Tom Brady is always tough, but the interior guys have to get penetration.
PATRIOTS PASS DEFENSE: The Patriots are known for taking away their opponent's top strength, so expect them to try to prevent Flacco from feeding Dennis Pitta and others in the middle of the field. When the Ravens last played the Patriots in the 2015 playoffs, cornerback Malcolm Butler didn't play a single defensive snap. Now, he's the team's top corner, which could mean a matchup with Steve Smith Sr. on Monday. Fourteen players have recorded a sack for the Patriots this season. The Patriots are allowing only 17.3 points per game.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: In games like this, the Ravens believe their special teams can make a big difference with a momentum-changing play. Everybody knows about the season Justin Tucker is having. He has made 35 consecutive field-goal attempts, dating back to last year. Sam Koch has put 28 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, the third most in the league. Koch has only four touchbacks. New England often kicks the ball short, so return man Devin Hester Sr. should get some chances.
PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS: There was some concern about standout kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has missed four field-goal attempts and three extra-point tries this season. However, Gostkowski went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and 2-of-2 on extra point tries last week in a victory over the Los Angeles Rams and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Rookie return man Cyrus Jones, a former Gilman star, has fumbled four times this year. Danny Amendola, another return option, is injured.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens have won big games at Gillette Stadium before, so they won't be intimidated by the opponent or the setting. They also are coming into Foxborough, Mass., with momentum after destroying the Miami Dolphins last week. However, they have lost three straight road games, and their offense seems to struggle to get anything going on the road. The Ravens' plus-five turnover ratio is tied with the Patriots for the eighth best in the league, but their 99 penalties are the third most.
PATRIOTS INTANGIBLES: Despite Brady's suspension earlier this year and Gronkowski's injury, the Patriots keep rolling. They've won seven of their last eight games and they can clinch another AFC East title with a victory and a Dolphins loss Sunday. For all the talk about how tight the rivalry has been, the Patriots are 7-1 against the Ravens in the regular season. New England is 55-10 in December since 2001. The Patriots would like nothing more than to keep the Ravens out of the playoffs.
PREDICTION: Did the Ravens truly find something offensively against the Dolphins that they can carry forward, or was the performance an aberration and more of a reflection of an overmatched opponent? The answer to that question should become clearer Monday night. The Ravens relish the opportunity to play the Patriots on the road and before a nationally television audience, so you expect them to play a physical and inspired game. But to beat the Patriots, they're going to have to play near mistake-free football, and they haven't shown they are capable of that yet.