The Baltimore Ravens will play the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship. It will take place at 6 p.m. EST on CBS. Ray Lewis will retire once his season is over, this is the last playoff tour for the veteran, leader, and great player. The Ravens and the Patriots met in week three, where the Ravens won by a field goal to beat the Patriots. One advantage for New England is when people focus on other things that is not them, which has happen this week. The thing people seem to be focused on is what happen week three, and especially, what happen last year in the AFC Championship game. They are trying to draw comparison to last year AFC Title game to this year’s game, but we should all know, a year makes a world of difference. The veteran Ravens play the veteran Patriots for the title of the AFC. These two teams are familiar enough with each other, it should be a slug feast.
Eight Things to look for:
Offensive Line: Will New England’s line hold up against the Ravens blitzes? Can they hold up against Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger? If they want QB Tom Brady to have time to throw then they need too, the offensive line holds a big key to New England losing or winning this game. They need to protect Tom Brady, and they need to know at all times where Suggs and Kruger is on the defense, and block them to stop the majority of the Ravens pass rush. Of course, they need to watch for the corner blitzes they sometime throw at the offense. The line has a tall task ahead of them but if they can contain Suggs and Kruger then they will do a lot in stopping pressure on Brady.
Deep Passes: QB Joe Flacco loves to take deep shots up the field, 4-5 xs a game. If the defense can survive that, they keep a lot of Ravens TDs off the board. The Ravens score a lot of TDs, and points by connecting on deep passes, so New England’s defense needs to be focused on stopping WR Torrey Smith. Smith went wild against the Broncos and the deep passes by Flacco connected almost every time, leading to their explosion of points and why they score in the 30s. Against New England the first time, they were in the 30s because they connected on their deep passes. To stop the Ravens means to stop the deep passes, so if New England’s secondary can hold up they will keep the scoring low, and that will be a hand in winning the game. Look for New England to have Talib on Boldin, and double Smith with Dennard and an safety. They may actually try man to man but I doubt it, Talib could double Smith, but we will see. They may have Talib or Dennard on Jones, since he loves to go deep too, and have Arrington on Boldin, as Boldin, will test the middle of the field.
Run Defense: The Patriots have a great rushing defense. They stop the run as good as any team in the NFL, thanks in large part to Vince Wilfork. Last year Wilfork had an amazing day for the Patriots so it will be interesting to see what the Ravens have plan for him. They will probably double him, but the running defense with Spikes is still outstanding, and Wilfork can get away from double teams. The run defense is loaded with Mayo, Hightower, and Spikes. They just need to be fast and not let Ray Rice hit the hole. Rice is one of the best RBs, so New England needs to focus on taking his ground game out of play.
Middle of the Field: Boldin worries me with the middle of the field. It is a weakness for the Patriots. Its been a weakness all season, and it still is a weakness. Everybody knows the Patriots linebackers can’t cover the middle of the field. Boldin could try to test it, and I would look for Arrington to cover the middle of the field. Arrington has been better in the slot, but I still don’t trust him against the likes of Boldin, but if he steps his game up, it could help tremendously against the Ravens. Ray Rice is also a problem over the middle of the field. The Ravens love to dump it off to Rice more then any other team in the NFL, just about, so New England needs to be ready for that. The Ravens love to throw screens to Rice as well, which he is dangerous at. The Patriots stopped the Texans tight end screens, but had some trouble with the RB screens. The Patriots, however, seem to prepare and react better to screen passes then they have. They need to have good reaction today to stop the Ravens screen passing game.
Pass Rush: Its important for New England to contain the Ravens pass rush, but it is also important if the Patriots can get pressure on Flacco. They do not have to sack him, but they need to be around him, causing pressure. If they can get Flacco uncomfortable, and even rushing throws, the defense can take advantage of that. The pass rush for New England has been decent, its not great, but its not awful either. The Patriots need to be aggressive though because when they are aggressive, they are a much better team defensively. Look for New England to be aggressive as much as the Ravens usually are and send a lot of blitzes.
Patriots Passing Game: New England’s WR’s needs to get open and do a better job then last year about getting open. Welker needs to get separation, no matter who is on him, and if he wants a new contract as big as he wants it to be then he needs to make that happen in today’s game. Hernandez is great once he makes the catch so he needs to find holes as well. Ray Lewis has been thrown at 17 times in the playoffs and has given up 15 completed passes for over 700 yards. You don’t run at Ray Lewis but you throw at him. Look for New England to try to get match ups against Lewis, like Hernandez could be the middle guy, to try to draw match ups with Ray Lewis and hopefully take advantage of it. Lloyd may be the biggest difference in the game however, Webb, their best corner, is not on the team now due to an injury, and I’m guessing the next best corner will be on Welker. In man to man, Brandon Lloyd should get open, if he does he could be an factor in the passing game, depending on if the Ravens play man to man on him, of course, but we will see. Tom Brady, of course, needs to always know where Ed Reed is. Reed is a ball hawking safety, he is a play maker, and an difference maker, and if he gets an interception, look out, he can return it to the house. Tom Brady can’t force throws and risk turnovers, the Patriots would be hard press to survive them this time around. The Patriots must take care of the football.
Patriots Rushing Attack: The Patriots need to run, and let the Ravens know they have to account for it, so the Ravens will not sell out on the pass every time. RB Steven Ridley has helped New England’s offense out big time. When New England runs with success, they are a better offensive team. Ridley, who has problems with ball security, needs to hang on to that football, because turnovers, simply can not happen in this type of game for the Patriots. The running game can slow down the pass rush, and draw in extra guys into the box, and open up passing lanes for the Patriots.
Turnovers: The Patriots are one of the best teams in creating turnovers and they will need to try for turnovers in today’s game. If they can get turnovers it will help the chances at winning the game and since Rice is one of the best at running the ball, he naturally does not fumble the ball much. The Patriots best chance at getting turnovers will be via the air attack and forcing an interception. They can force a bad throw that gets picked off by adding a little heat to Flacco. The Patriots need to protect the ball on offense and force a turnover or two on defense. It doesn’t make the difference of the game but it definitely helps in either losing or winning the game.
In the second half, especially the fourth, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots fast pace, quick snap offense will take its toll on the Ravens defense and tire them out. On another note, Tom Brady is making his 7th appearance in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots seem to be a very focused team with a mission on their mind, and they seem more dedicated to that mission then they have in a very long time. Preparation will go a long way in who loses or wins the game. If the Ravens defense tires out, then the Patriots could pull away in the game, if they ,it might be a dog fight down to the end.