Ravens get ready for tough test against Pa­tri­ots on Mon­day Night Foot­ball

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— If the loss of Rob Gronkowski makes the task of slow­ing the Pa­tri­ots’ of­fense any less daunt­ing, it’s by the small­est of mar­gins.

As long as Tom Brady is un­der cen­ter, New Eng­land isn’t any less dan­ger­ous without its four-time Pro Bowl tight end.

Brady, 39, is as ef­fi­cient as ever in his old age. He has the NFL’s best touch­downto-in­ter­cep­tion ra­tio, throw­ing 19 touch­down passes and only a sin­gle pick this sea­son.

Ravens head coach John Har­baugh said that if Brady’s skill set has di­min­ished at all, he’s made up for it men­tally. Bal­ti­more knows how dif­fi­cult it can be to fool a quar­ter­back who has seen just about ev­ery­thing, so in­stead of get­ting tricky, the Ravens will stick to what

OWINGS MILLS

they do well on de­fense.

“Both teams will play to their strengths. You build your schemes through your per­son­nel, and you play to the things you do well,” Har­baugh said. “There will be wrin­kles in the game plans, I’m sure, on both sides. He’ll have stud­ied us in ev­ery which way pos­si­ble, I’m quite sure, look­ing for ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that he can. That’s just what he does a great job of. That’s one of the things that makes him the great player that he is.”

Bal­ti­more has played the Pa­tri­ots as well as any team in re­cent years. Brady has thrown 11 ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions against the Ravens and only 12 touch­down passes – very un­char­ac­ter­is­tic num­bers.

“Our fo­cus is on how we play this week. That’s what we need to talk about, not what we’ve done in the past,” Har­baugh said. “We’re go­ing to be fac­ing the most dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing of­fense yet to stop that we’ve faced all year. We’re go­ing to have to play our best foot­ball of the year to stop these guys.”

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dean Pees has fa­mil­iar­ity with Brady and New Eng­land, hav­ing held the po­si­tion there from 2006-09.”

The Pa­tri­ots will also be without wide re­ceiver Danny Amendola, but Brady will still have plenty of weapons at his dis­posal. Tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett has caught 44 passes for 544 yards and four touch­downs. Those may not be Gronkowski num­bers, but he pro­vides an­other dan­ger­ous tar­get.

The Ravens’ top-ranked de­fense sur­ren­ders just 296.1 yards per game. The sec­ondary av­er­ages 222.3 yards al­lowed through the air – the eighth fewest in the NFL. Their 14 in­ter­cep­tions are the sec­ond most league wide.

Bal­ti­more was re­cently without its top cor­ner­back, Jimmy Smith, for a pair of games, but will have a healthy unit Mon­day night.

The Ravens need to be sharp against the run, too. Pa­tri­ots run­ning back LeGar­rette Blount leads the NFL with 13 rush­ing touch­downs.

Though he never ref­er­enced Brady by name, line­backer Ter­rell Suggs ref­er­enced his ca­reer wins and cham­pi­onships. He was also aware that New Eng­land sits at 10-2, or first place in the AFC.

“It’s a big game this week. We get to play on Mon­day night. We’re play­ing a good team,” he said. “They’re ahead of their divi­sion. We’re ahead of ours. So, we have an­other big game. It’s go­ing to be fun.”

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

CHRISTO­PHER T. AS­SAF/BAL­TI­MORE SUN/TNS

Bal­ti­more Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco ( 5) throws in the first quar­ter against the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in the 2015 AFC di­vi­sional play­offs. Both teams will re­match Mon­day in a key late-sea­son show­down.

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