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Led by a couple of the biggest film buffs in the NFL – linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed – the Ravens defense often finds itself a step ahead of the opposing offense.
But with Head Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, the Ravens know they’ve met their match in the battle of wits.
“It’s a very cerebral game playing against them,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said on Monday.
Head Coach John Harbaugh called Belichick the “greatest coach in our league right now.” As Harbaugh said, it’s proven.
Belichick has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots and compiled an NFL-leading 139-53 record since taking over the helm in 2000. He’s done it largely with a highly-sophisticated offense.
The Patriots finished the regular season ranked second in the NFL in yards per game (428.0) and third in points per game (32.1). They put up 45 points in their divisional playoff game against Denver.
“Their offense has got weapons everywhere,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the most explosive offense in football right now, certainly the most explosive offense left in the tournament.”
“If you watch SportsCenter, you’ve seen their offense,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “They can hurt you in 100 different ways.”
Johnson essentially counted the ways in his Monday press conference.
It starts with the Patriots’ film preparation. Johnson said the Patriots look at every minute detail, from a player’s stance, to alignment, everything.
“Everything that you give away, they are going to take advantage of, and your weakness is what they are going to attack,” he said. “What you are weak at is what you need to expect to get.”
Johnson also talked about the Patriots’ personnel groups.
The players that come onto the field for an offense are the first indication of what play they may be running. But the Patriots often use a personnel group that the defense recognizes from film, but will line the players up in totally different places.
“That’s why communication in these games is so vital and not going crazy and overthinking things – just getting lined up and playing – because you can get anything,” Johnson said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Lastly, Brady is good at getting defenses to show their hand too early. The Patriots often get to the line of scrimmage quickly, or go no-huddle to try to get a read on what may be coming. Not every quarterback does that, Johnson said.
“You can’t be a wooden Indian in this game. You can’t just [be] a little stick figure,” Johnson said. “You have to disguise, you have to move, but you can’t show your disguise too early, because if he knows what you’re in, he is going to hurt you. Disguise is very important, but you have to do it smart.”
Being smart is going to be the key. But will the Ravens outsmart the Patriots?
That’s what players and coaches will be working long hours this week trying to accomplish.
“That’s why you get so excited to have an opportunity to play against a guy [like Belichick] as a coach,” Harbaugh said.