Swapping Out Consistency For Explosion:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 21 carries and 77 yards with one touchdown against the Ravens last season. Entering this game, Green-Ellis is under contract with the Cincinnati Bengals while Woodhead left the victory over the Houston Texans with an injury on the very first play. Without those two, the Patriots will instead turn to Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
Vereen and Ridley were both drafted ahead of last season, but neither carried much weight of the offense. This season, Ridley ran for over 1,200 yards with 12 touchdowns, while Vereen had three total touchdowns against the Texans. Both have proven to be less consistent than their predecessors, but both are also significantly more explosive. Ridley in particular has developed into a constant end-zone threat and helped to balance the offensive attack.
The McDaniels Impact:
Josh McDaniels left the Patriots to become the Denver Broncos head coach many years ago. After one season as the St. Louis Rams' head coach last year, McDaniels returned to the Patriots during last season's playoff run. He was with the team for the AFC Championship game, but he hadn't really had any input on what the offense was producing. With him installed as the offensive coordinator this season, the Patriots led the league in scoring with a historic season. They averaged 34.8 points per game, scoring 557 total, and also led the league in total yards with 427.9 per game. Most importantly however, the Patriots' offensive balance was phenomenal with the team ranking fourth in passing yards and seventh in rushing yards. That kind of balance could make the difference this season.
Another Revamped Offensive Line:
The Patriots have seemingly always had one of the best offensive lines in the league under Dante Scarrnechia, but this year there was some doubt cast over the abilities of the unit. Last year's lineup featured veterans Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters and Sebastien Vollmer. After Light and Waters retired, the Patriots instead enter this game with the much less experienced Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell starting. Couple that with Logan Mankins' various injury issues, Sebastien Vollmer's chronic back problems and Dan Connolly's second position change in successive seasons, and the Patriots have a completely different offensive line unit for this year's championship game.
That unit has performed admirably all season long, but one must wonder if those performances will continue at this stage of the season.
The Brandon Lloyd Factor:
With the Ravens' lacking two of their top three cornerbacks, the Patriots will be desperate to get the ball outside of the numbers in this game. Last year they were throwing passes to Deion Branch, Chad Johnson and Julian Edelman at this point of the season, but this year those players have primarily been replaced by Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd hasn't had the expected impact on the Patriots' offense from a statistical point of view, but he has infinitely more ability than any of Johnson, Branch and Edelman at this point of their respective careers. Johnson was released prior to the season. Branch was too, before being signed during the season and then placed on IR. Edelman also landed on IR before his season ever really got going.
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