Patriots versus Ravens: When the Patriots are on Defense
This is the second of two previews for the upcoming New England Patriots versus Baltimore Ravens AFC Championship Game. Tuesday, we broke down when the Patriots were on offense. Now it’s the defense, special teams, and the game pick.
The New England Patriots are coming off, easily, their best played game of the season. Not only did they hold the Broncos to only 10 points and under 300 total yards, but its the way they did it that was most impressive. They flew around the field and had a swagger to their game that Patriots fans has rarely seen during the 2011-12 season.
Now, here come the Baltimore Ravens into New England for the AFC Championship game. For a team that has been known for their tough defense for more than a decade now, the Ravens possess some nice talent on their offense. Led by running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens are a classic run to so set up the pass sort of team that manages to usually put up enough of an effort to win the game with their talented defense. The issue for the Ravens is that the their offense has been prone to hit snags this year. Last week was a great example. At home, against the Houston Texans, the Ravens offense was arguably out-played by T.J Yates and the Houston offense. Only their defense kept them from getting upset at home last Sunday.
After the jump, breaking down the game furtherWhen the Ravens run the ball
Ravens running-back Ray Rice has had one of the most bi-polar seasons that I can remember. At times, he was unstoppable, racking up yards after yards with little to no effort. At other times, he was easily corralled in the back-field and held to little yardage especially when it comes to yards per carry. He had more good games than bad games, and that shows in the Baltimore Ravens number ten rushing offense.
The Ravens success comes off their zone-rushing game. Similar to the Broncos of the 90′s – and to lesser extent, the Redskins now – the Ravens utilize zone blocking schemes where Ray Rice is required to find the hold, make one cut into the hole and put his head down and get the hard-yardage. The Ravens possess a physical offensive line to get this done.
That might be counter-acted by the Patriots defensive line. The Patriots defensive line has been supremely underrated all season long whether they are in their 3-4 alignment of 4-3 alignment. A lot of this is because of the way that Vince Wilfork has played all season. He hasn’t put up the raw numbers, but this is because his job is to suck up blocks and allow the line-backers to roll free sideline to sideline. It’s not just Vince Wilfork either. Gerrard Warren and Mark Anderson are both giving similar efforts to Vince Wilfork. This could be what the Patriots need to stop the zone-rushing scheme. By providing strength at the point of attack, linebackers such as Brandon Spikes and Jerrod Mayo can attack the holes before Ray Rice has a chance to hit it.
Still, the Baltimore Ravens have the aforementioned Rice, who is still one of the better backs in the league. They also spell him with the hard-running Ricky Williams, who has given the Patriots fits over the years. If the Ravens are going to win the game, they need to run the ball effectively and control the ball to keep it out of Tom Brady’s hands. They have the ability to do it.
When the Ravens throw the ball
Joe Flacco was the second quarterback taken in the 2008 draft after Matt Ryan and has had arguably a better career. He has been to the post-season in each of his first four seasons and he has been to the AFC Championship twice now since he was drafted. The issue is that Joe Flacco has been wildly inconsistent. At times, he finally looks like he is turning the corner into a top quarterback in the league and then he turns around and has a dud of a game.
For Flacco, its easy to argue he has the most pressure in this game for the Baltimore Ravens. This is the most talent he has had at the receiver position since he was drafted. He has possession receiver extraordinaire Anquan Boldin and an awesome deep threat in Torrey Smith. Despite all this, they finished 29th in the league in passing offense and Flacco only threw 20 touchdown passes during the season. The issue lies in his composure and accuracy, and with the way the Patriots have been getting after quarterbacks in recent weeks, it might play in the Patriots favor.
The only problem is that the Patriots secondary can make almost anyone look like an all-pro quarterback, and its hard to deny that Joe Flacco has talent. He might have received the best match-up in order to showcase that talent on one of the biggest stages in football. The Patriots secondary has given up a ton of yards all season long but they succeed because they force turnovers in big opportunities. The style the Patriots secondary plays is either going to be really good for Joe Flacco or really bad, with no in between. If he’s on, he’ll tear it up, but if he’s off, it could be a four interception day. With the way the defense has stepped up recently, I’ll give the edge to New England.
Similar to last week, there are not really any game breakers on both sides of the ball. Both teams possess solid kicking games and solid return games, but nothing game-changing. Like last week, if something does happen in this game, it will be a huge moment in the game.
Since the 2007-2008 season ended, New England Patriots fans have been waiting for another shot at getting to the Super Bowl. The fans have gone through a season without Tom Brady, a season where it appeared as if the Patriots reign was coming to an end, and a painful playoff loss to one of their greatest rivals, the New York Jets. Patriots fans knew they had the talent to get back to the Super Bowl, but the Patriots just never put it all together.
Now there back and sit two wins away from the fourth Super Bowl title in ten seasons. The level of success that the Patriots have had over the years is incredible, but none of that matters now because it is the 2011-12 season. The Patriots understand that the past is the past and that this is a different team. This team got their playoff win off their back, and now have their sights set for the Super Bowl. All that stands in their way is an equally hungry Baltimore Ravens team.
The Patriots are at home, they can smell the ultimate goal in sight. They aren’t going to let the Ravens stand in their way.
Patriots – 31, Ravens – 21