The Baltimore Ravens enter today's game against the New England Patriots as a huge underdog. Will Joe Flacco be able to repeat his performances of the last two weeks and lead the Ravense to a surprising win? Will Ray Lewis be able to come through and will a defense to success against Tom Brady?
These are just a couple questions that promise to be answered within the next few hours.
Today's article is going to take a look at five different keys for Baltimore if it hopes to win the AFC and advance to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
1. Avoid Joe Flacco vs Tom Brady
If this game turns into a high-scoring shootout between two quarterbacks, Baltimore really doesn't stand much of a chance. I fully understand that Flacco has played really good football as of late, but he isn't going to take on Brady at Gillette Stadium with the Super Bowl on the line and perform better. Instead, Baltimore needs every aspect of its game to be top notch this evening. It needs a strong running game with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Equally as important, it needs to avoid the temptation of abandoning the run if New England gets up early.
2. Keep the Ball out of Brady's Hands.
This goes directly into my previous point. Baltimore must play the clock as well as the Patriots here. By this I mean that it has to control the time of possession and keep Brady on the sideline. If the Ravens win the battle with the clock, it means that they have had success running the ball and continuing drive. In addition, they will most likely win the game. I don't mean to indicate that Baltimore cannot look over the top to Torrey Smith, but its offense has to give its defense a working advantage against the No. 1 offense in the entire National Football League.
3. Pressure Tom Brady
As evidenced by Brady's poor first-half performance against the San Francisco 49ers back in Week 15, he does struggle when facing consistent pressure up the middle and on the outside. In reality, Brady needs a clean pocket in order to succeed. If Baltimore takes that away from him, it will create timing issues and possible turnovers. If not, Brady will be up to his old tricks this evening. Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones combined for nearly 20 sacks during the regular year. They can provide the necessary pressure from all angles of the front seven against Brady. This is a huge key for the Ravens defense.
4. Utilize the Tight Ends
New England's defense has been pretty darn good against the pass as of late. That being said, it can be vulnerable between the hashes, against tight ends. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for nearly 900 yards during the regular year and can create mismatches against the likes of Steve Gregory and Brandon Spikes. While Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin promise to get their touches on the outside, expect Flacco to look up the middle for mismatches. If he succeeds, Baltimore will be in a damn good place when all is said and done.
5. Don't Forget About Ray Rice
We already know how Baltimore performs when Rice isn't getting the necessary touches to be successful in the running game. Even if the Ravens fall down early, they need to keep getting Rice the ball in space against a Patriots' defensive front that can be bullied by what has been a solid run-blocking Ravens' offensive line. Personally, I want to see Rice get between 30-35 touches with a bit of Bernard Pierce mixed in. Again, this directly correlates with my previous point about avoiding the one-dimensional trap.