This Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens will act as a barometer measuring New England's condition, according to *ESPNBoston.com*.
The Patriots, a team which has undergone substantial offensive change over the bye week in its loss of wide receiver Randy Moss and acquisition of veteran Deion Branch, will face the Ravens, who "are still defined by their defense...a unit which has developed a knack for rising up in critical situations -- such as in the red zone, where opponents have scored just four touchdowns in 12 opportunities, and on third down, where they lead the NFL in holding foes to a 26.6 percent conversion rate," and potentially New England's toughest opponent to date, writes Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com.
"We've done some good things this year, but we haven't played a full 60-minute game yet," Brady said in a locker room interview yesterday. "That's what it's going to take against these guys this week. There's no let up from this team. There's not one area where there is a glaring weakness. We have to compete out there, and I think the group of guys in this locker room is ready to do that.
"...[the Ravens] create a lot of issues with their different packages and their blitz packages and where they line up. They do try to cause some confusion. We may move around a lot, but they move around a lot and sometimes you want to settle yourself down to see what they're doing. Sometimes you're snapping the ball not quite sure if you have everything picked up, but you have to do the best you can do against a defense like this. I think that's why they're one of the best defenses in the league. They've been that way for a long time."
Perhaps Brady and Branch can rekindle some of their on-field chemistry to combat the volatile Ravens D. Read about it in the *Boston Herald*.
"[Branch] was a really dynamic player for us in our offense and had really played big in so many big games." Brady said. "We had spent a lot of time together trying to get to know each other. Right when we were starting to get all warmed up and lathered up, he got sent to Seattle. So, that's just kind of the way it's gone...Like I said, it's good to have him back, and I think hopefully, we can do some of those same things he was doing for us before."
Read more about the Brady-Branch chemistry on *ESPNBoston.com*.
The seismic offensive shifts this 2010-11 Patriots team has undergone, over the bye week, have overshadowed the key aspect, which most accredit to New England's three previous championships not so long ago, the defense. Coach Bill Belichick waxed strategic about some of the key defensive players on his squad, in his press conference yesterday--particularly Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo.
"[Devin] McCourty was [a guy who understands the defense as a whole] for sure. Guys start telling you what the nose is supposed to do on a particular stunt when he's playing corner and stuff like that. Usually you don't get that. I'd say Devin was a guy, sitting down with him...and I know a little bit about that scheme from Coach [Greg] Schiano and what they do and so forth, so you kind of [say], 'What's this guy doing? What's that guy doing?' and kind of keep going and say, 'Well alright, so he understands what the linebackers are doing. He understands a couple adjustments. OK, now what about this?
"..some players just know what they do, which is OK. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. You can talk to some guys and you ask them what the defense was and [they say], 'Well, here's what I do on that defense. Here's what I do on that play. This is what my assignment is. If this happens I do this. If that happens I do that.' 'Well, what does the linebacker do?' 'Well, I'm not really sure, but here's what I do.'
"I'm just saying it's different. When you're a middle linebacker it's certainly helpful - [Jerod] Mayo, Ray Lewis, guys like that that really have a good understanding of not only what they're doing, but what the line is doing, what the secondary is doing, why we can't play this coverage against this formation, why we can't run this line stunt against this type of blocking scheme. Then they'll never call those things. They won't put your team in those bad situations because they have such a good understanding of it.
"Or maybe it's something that you would do, but not in this particular situation. There are a lot of things in football that are good calls, but if they're done at the wrong time, they're really bad calls. It's not that the call is bad, but to do it at that particular time wouldn't be the right thing. Having an understanding of all that and having a feel for the game - Pepper [Johnson] is another guy. [To] just go through the whole game and not do something but then get to the one critical time in the game where it's really the right time to do it and then make that call and put your defense in an advantageous position, that's what good football players do."