FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At this past Saturday's "Playoff Huddle" event at the Patriots Hall of Fame with Patriots radio analyst and former Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia, a question was asked about potential under-the-radar players.
At the time, the team's opponent had not yet been determined and thus it was a difficult question to answer. Now that we know it's the Ravens, here are a few candidates based on the specific matchup:
TE Tim Wright. The Ravens are one of the tougher run defenses in the NFL, ranking fourth this season in holding opponents to an average of 88.3 yards per game and not allowing a 100-yard rusher in the past 27 games. They are a sturdy front seven and with this in mind, it's hard to imagine the Patriots go with a heavy diet of bigger personnel and a power-running approach. Instead, a more likely scenario is that the Patriots attempt to manipulate matchups in hopes of lightening the box and getting the Ravens into sub packages to test their overall quality and depth in the defensive backfield, which is their primary area of vulnerability. For the Patriots to do this, adding a second tight end with more of a pass-catching profile, third receiver, or second running back makes sense. This is where Wright, a "move" tight end, could be a bigger factor. When blocking-based tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is paired with Rob Gronkowski, it usually results in opponents playing base defense. But when Wright is paired with Gronkowski, it has sometimes been sub because he's more of a pass-catching threat. The Patriots have had success going up-tempo with that grouping as well, so we could envision Wright being a bigger part of the plan Saturday, with receiver Danny Amendola and running back Brandon Bolden (in a two-back set with Shane Vereen) as other options.
CB Kyle Arrington. Looking back on notes from past matchups when the Patriots have faced an offense coordinated by Gary Kubiak, one of the unique elements was how the Patriots employed a three-cornerback base package for extended stretches. The benefit of that approach was to stay stout in the front seven against a zone-blocking scheme when defending the run, but to add more of a coverage-based element to the secondary at the same time. While Kubiak obviously has mostly different personnel in Baltimore, one common link this year is the presence of tight end Owen Daniels. So perhaps we see the three-cornerback base package again, and if so, that could mean an increase in playing time for No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington, with cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon fallback options.
Anyone on the kickoff coverage team. The Ravens ranked first in the NFL during the regular season in kickoff return average, as Jacoby Jones is one of the league's most dangerous threats (32 returns, 30.6 average, 1 TD in regular season). So this puts anyone on the kickoff coverage team on the radar -- kicker Stephen Gostkowski; running back Brandon Bolden; safeties Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Tavon Wilson and Devin McCourty; linebackers Darius Fleming, Chris White, Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers; and special-teams captain Matthew Slater.