In what is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Ravens will travel to Foxboro to face the New England Patriots. These two teams played in week three and the Ravens prevailed 31-30.
1. Quarterback Battle
A few years ago, when the Ravens and Patriots played, the main thing to watch was the Ravens defense going against Patriots QB Tom Brady. Now, with the way Ravens QB Joe Flacco has played, it is Joe Flacco vs Tom Brady. Over the last few games, Flacco has stepped up to help the Ravens win.
So far in the postseason, Flacco and Brady are the top two quarterbacks based on a few statistics. In QB rating, Flacco is first and Brady is second. Out of the quarterbacks who have started a playoff game this season, Flacco and Brady are the only two to throw for zero interceptions. When you look at passing yards per game, Brady is first and Flacco is second and the only other quarterback who is averaging over 300 yards per game is the Texans Matt Schaub. Lastly, Flacco has thrown for five TDs which is two more than anyone else as five people, including Brady, have three touchdowns.
Now to the game, it very well could come down to the last drive, just like the last two times they have played. In the regular season, Flacco led the Ravens down the field for a game winning field goal. In last years AFC Championship Game, Flacco led the Ravens on a late drive but, Lee Evans dropped the game winning touchdown pass and then Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal to send the game to overtime. In this sense, Flacco has the advantage but, you never know what Brady would have done if he had the ball on the last drive. Also in the last two games, Flacco has outplayed Brady. Flacco has gone 50-of-75 for 688 yards with 5 TDs, 2 INTs, and a QBR of 68.1. Brady went 50-of-77 for 574 yards with 1 TD, 2 INTs, and a QBR of 78.8.
This game will come down to which quarterback plays the best and, it could come to whether one of these two can lead their team to a game winning drive. Also, in the last two games against each other, Flacco and Brady each completed 22 passes and then 28 passes.
2. Passing Game
While I just talked about Flacco vs Brady, we still need to take a look at how Flacco can perform great this week. The Patriots ranked 29th in total passing yards and passing yards per game. In their only playoff game this year, the Patriots gave up 343 pass yards. In the postseason, most of Flacco’s good performance has come from the deep passes. He has averaged 10.75 yards per attempt so far this postseason. Expect, the Ravens to try and use Torrey Smith to take the top off of the defense and then get the ball underneath to Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Smith had 127 yards on 6 catches with 2 TDs in the earlier matchup. Boldin had 4 catches for 48 yards and Pitta had 5 catches for 50 yards and 1 TD. Since the Patriots have proved they are susceptible to the passing game, expect the Ravens to attack that way early, and often.
While this may seem very broad, it is still an important topic. Despite Brady being an elite quarterback, the Ravens are 2-2 in their last four games against him. The main reason for this is the defense being able to contain Brady. Brady hasn’t been as effective as usual do to the defensive scheme. Since the Ravens have played Tom Brady enough, they have been able to figure out something that works against Brady. Simplifying it, there are two ways to attack Brady. The first is to blitz him and the other is to sit back in coverage. In theory, blitzing works because Brady will have less time to throw but, if Brady identifies the blitz, he will change the play to get the ball out fast enough. Dropping back in coverage would work in theory because it would be harder to find an open receiver but, you are only sending three or four rushers after Brady which will usually not be enough to get significant pressure. This then gives Brady the time to find an open receiver because the secondary can’t cover a receiver forever. Therefore, you have to pick your times to blitz and try and confuse Brady.
4. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed vs Tom Brady
Tying into confusing Brady is Lewis and Reed as it will be up to them to try and confuse Brady. Lewis is the defensive leader and it will mainly be his responsibility to get people to line up and confuse Brady. When Brady does audible, it will be up to Lewis to change the defensive alignment. For Reed, it is his job to switch the secondary assignments. Combined, Lewis and Reed have enough experience to be able to get the Ravens in a good defense to defend against Brady.
More specifically to Reed, he will be the main player stopping the Patriots from passing deep. Last week against the Broncos, Peyton Manning never even tested Reed in coverage which is very rare. Based off this picture, Brady is very aware of what Reed can do but, expect Brady to attack Reed with a few deep passes as Reed no longer has the range he used to have.