AFC Championship 2013: Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
AT: Gillette Stadium – Sunday, January 20 – 6:30est.
Well if this storybook season is going to continue, it might as well be a re-match to New England. Last year the Ravens lost a close one to New England in the AFC Championship game. This Sunday, they will have another shot to make it to the Super Bowl promise-land.
New England this year is a different team on defense, they are much more effective getting after the quarterback and stopping the run. With QB Tom Brady at the helm and a potent running game in Stevan Ridley, they are tough to stop. New England is a better team from week three, when the Ravens pulled out a last minute kick for the win, and they are more complete than last season.
For the Ravens, probably the match-up versus the Giants in Baltimore was the game that propelled their playoff run. And no doubt Ray Lewis announcement of his retirement has given the team a sense of urgency. This team believes, and besides that QB Joe Flacco has elevated his game to a higher level.
CHALK IT UP/KEY MATCH-UP’S:
Ravens Pass Rush & Secondary vs. Patriots Receivers & QB Brady:
It’s no surprise Brady is having another great season. He controls the offense and can slice up secondaries. The Pats offense finished first in points (34.8) and fourth in passing yards (291). What changed the outcome for the Ravens defense last week vs. Manning was after halftime, the pass rush and pressure packages were effective. In fact, pressure up the middle from Kruger forced Manning to rollout and throw the game changing interception in overtime. Versus Manning the defense ended up with 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 5 QB hits.
The Patriots Wes Welker has been hot and the Ravens will have to find a way to cover the speedy receiver. There are plenty of other weapons in Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski (out forearm), and receiver Brandon Llyod. The Ravens secondary will need to cover well and at the same time, they can’t allow yards after the catch. The key for the Ravens linebackers is getting the right personnel lined up on TE Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots tightend lines up in multiple spots and could be a huge match-up problem for the Ravens.
Ravens Run D vs. RB Stevan Ridley:
Last week in Denver the Ravens run defense stepped up. They didn’t let Denver gash their defensive front. This game, the Ravens have to continue where they left off in Denver and not give up big yards on the ground. The young running back Ridley, has been an added dimension to New England’s already potent offense. In the regular season Ridley had 1263 yards, 12 TD’s and 4.4. yards per carry.
Ray Rice Vs. Patriots Run D:
The Patriots improved their linebacking core in the offseason and through the draft. The finished the regular season ranked 9th versus the run (101.9). Ravens offensive line played one of their best games against a formidable Denver pass rush. The offensive line will have a huge obstacle this week in defending DT Vince Wilfork, who is a disruptive force.
Flacco/Receiver vs. Patriots Secondary:
Allowing Flacco time to get the ball out to his targets. So, again pass protection will be key. Another reason the offensive line played well is that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is rolling Flacco out. It’s been a great strategy and helps keep defenses off balance.
If the Patriots have one weakness it is pass defense. After the season they finished 29th in passing yards allowed (271.4). However, the team added the talents of corner Aqib Talib (formerly with Tampa Bay) late in the season. Talib who is one of the better corners in the game and he’ll likely be covering the speedster Torrey Smith. The Ravens new strategy is to take more shots deep and that has been a plus.