The Ravens' problem with Patriots DT Vince Wilfork: 'You can't move the guy'

The Ravens might have a matchup problem vs. 'huge' Patriots DT Vince Wilfork.

Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah offered a succinct response when he was asked what makes New England Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so difficult to block.

"He's huge," Zuttah said with a laugh.

For all the talk about quarterback Joe Flacco's recent postseason play, the Ravens know they are going to need to run the ball in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Patriots, and doing so successfully starts with containing Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

That task could fall on a couple of the Ravens' offensive linemen, but Zuttah knows there will be times Saturday, when he'll be matched up one-on-one against Wilfork.

"I haven't really ever seen him get moved off the ball too much," Zuttah said. "You just kind of have to trust your technique, stay low and try to keep fighting. He has what, 11, 12 years in the league? He's one of the best who has done it."

At 6 feet 4 and 300 pounds, Zuttah is considered undersized for a center and he's struggled this season against really big nose tackles, which is why Saturday's matchup could be problematic for the Ravens. Zuttah will be giving up 25 pounds to Wilfork, the anchor of the Patriots' ninth-ranked rushing defense.

Zuttah, who allowed a team-leading 23 quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus, is coming off one of his most difficult games of the season. In last week's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round, Zuttah had major issues with nose tackle Steve McLendon (6 feet 4, 320 pounds) for the second time this season.

McLendon was credited with only one tackle, but he pushed Zuttah back into Flacco on two different occasions, knocking the quarterback to the ground. But the Ravens center did get some retribution, making one of the key blocks in Bernard Pierce's 5-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.

"He's a big boy, too," Zuttah said of McLendon. "I don't think he gets as much credit as he deserves. He's probably, so far, the best nose that I've played. To have that matchup going into playing Vince, it is kind of good [preparation].

"This is playoff football. There's going to be good players from here on out — every team, every matchup. You're not going to win all of them, but you can't get away from your fundamentals and your technique. You just got to keep playing."

Taking advantage of Wilfork's athleticism and size and needing to plug holes because of injuries, the Patriots have moved the 33-year-old Wilfork around the defensive line this season. Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak acknowledged that there's some ambiguity about where Wilfork will consistently line up.

"Are they going to play an odd front, are they going to play an even front? I don't know. If you know, let me know," Kubiak joked. "It's our job, scheme wise, to try and help everybody with what we do, but ultimately, you've got to be better than the guy across from you that day. It's a big challenge for all of us, not just Jeremy."

Wilfork was limited to just four games last season after he suffered a season-ending knee injury, but he's made a successful return and has looked more and more like his disruptive self. He's been credited with 47 tackles, one quarterback hit and one interception, and he even blocked a long field goal in the Patriots' victory over the New York Jets on Dec. 21.

"I'm a football player and I always say that. I wasn't surprised that I can play and be effective at this level," Wilfork said Wednesday. "Health was never an issue with me this year, thinking about it. My goal was just getting back on this team and helping my teammates win, and we've done a lot of that around here. I'm just fortunate and grateful to be playing another postseason game this week coming up. That's always been my goal to get back and help my teammates win. That's how I approach the season."

Wilfork has had some memorable battles over the years with the Ravens, and has definitely earned their respect. Offensive lineman Marshal Yanda and head coach John Harbaugh praised Wilfork this week and acknowledged it's going to be a team effort to deal with him.

"You can't move the guy," Harbaugh said. "He plays really hard. I see his big, strong body out there, and I'm thinking he's not going to move the way he does, and he's chasing plays down and playing hard. And obviously, he has a love for the game. The whole front plays really well. It's probably the best defense they've had in a few years. They're playing at a really high level all the way across the board."

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
48°