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AFC Championship Rematch: Ravens vs Patriots

December 21, 2013 in What to Look For

In the last two seasons, the AFC Championship Game has consisted of the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. Both times the game has been played in New England and each game produced different results.

The first time around, in 2011, the Ravens suffered a heartbreaking defeat 23-20. With under one minute left in the game, wide receiver Lee Evans had the game-winning touchdown catch in his hands, but Patriots' defender Sterling Moore was able to knock it loose at the last second. Two plays later, the Ravens attempted a 32-yard field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. However, kicker Billy Cundiff missed it wide left and the Patriots won the game. They would face the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI where the Giants won 21-17. This game against the Patriots is still a sore spot for Ravens fans.

Last year, the Ravens headed up to Foxboro looking for revenge. The Ravens had defeated the Patriots 31-30 in the regular season on a 27-yard field goal from new kicker Justin Tucker. Wide receiver Torrey Smith played the game of his life catching six passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns just hours after finding out about the death of his younger brother Tevin.

A regular season victory isn't the same though. For the Ravens to come full-circle on the Patriots, they needed to win a playoff game in Foxboro. At halftime in the 2012 AFC Championship Game, the Ravens were down 13-7 and weren't playing great. In the second half, quarterback Joe Flacco came out firing and three three touchdown passes. This spearheaded the Ravens comeback and led them to a 28-13 victory.

This victory sent the Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII where they faced the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans where the Ravens hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after an eventful 34-31 victory.

1.  Joe Flacco
If the Ravens are to defeat the Patriots for a third straight time, they are going to need Flacco to play like he did in last season's two games.

In the regular season matchup, he went 28-of-39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 117.7. With the Ravens down 30-21 with 7:29 left in the game, they got the ball and he led them on a drive then ended in a touchdown pass to Smith with 4:01 left. After the defense forced a Patriots punt, Flacco and the offense got the ball back with 1:55 left. A few plays later, the Ravens had the ball on the Patriots' nine-yard line and sent in Tucker for the game-winning field goal. With the game on the line, Flacco led the Ravens on two scoring drives late in the game to win.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In the playoff matchup, the Ravens came out with a conservative game plan, but changed it at halftime to let him throw more. This resulted in the Ravens scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half and a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 106.2.

The Patriots have been a team that he plays better against due to his familiarity with them. He has played them six times going 3-3 including 2-1 in the playoffs. In these games, he has thrown 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes.

This year, he seems to be having a down year after winning the Super Bowl. He has thrown for 3,460 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 58.9 percent of his passes. Along with these stats, he has also thrown a career-high 17 interceptions and has a career-low quarterback rating (76.5). His previous high in interceptions was 12 which he has done three different times.

Part of the reason why he is having a down year is the struggles of the rest of the offense. Anquan Boldin, a key receiver from last year, was traded away and tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated and fractured his hip in training camp. He has only returned recently and the game this week will be his third of the season. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection and run blocking. The lack of an effective run game has pushed more onto the shoulders of Flacco.

One thing that he has done well this season is come through late in games. In the last two game, he has led two game-winning drives and in the first game, he led two touchdown drives in the final few minutes.

Playing in the clutch is one of the most important attributes that a quarterback can have in his arsenal and it is something that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. And Flacco has it.

If the Ravens can get another good performance from Flacco, then they are going to be tough to beat.

2.  Tom Brady
Speaking of quarterbacks that perform in the clutch, the Patriots have a pretty good one themselves in Brady.

While Brady is a first-ballet Hall-of-Fame quarterback, the Ravens' defense has given him trouble in the past. Since 2008 — when Flacco entered the league — Brady has thrown six touchdowns and nine interceptions against the Ravens while completing 60.2 percent of his passes. In his eight career starts against the Ravens, he has completed only 57.7 percent of his passes and has thrown two more interceptions than touchdowns. These are his worst numbers against an opponent.

One reason that the Ravens have been able to find success against him has been because of the numerous blitzes that the Ravens run. The Ravens' defense has been able to confuse Brady at times with their blitzes.

Directing the Ravens' signals on defense every other year has been Ray Lewis, another first-ballet Hall-of-Fame player. However, he retired in the offseason and left a huge void in the middle of the Ravens' defense. Taking over Lewis' spot has been Daryl Smith, a veteran signed in free agency.

He has exceeded expectations for the Ravens as he has 107 tackles (tied for a career-high), 4.5 sacks (career-high), three interceptions (career-high) and 18 pass deflections (career-high and a Ravens' franchise record for a linebacker). He has also done a good job of calling the signals for the defense.

Brady will be missing many of his top targets in this game. All three of his favorite targets from last year won't play as tight end Rob Gronkowski is out with a torn ACL and MCL, tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail awaiting trial for murder and wide receiver Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos in free agency. On top of that fourth-round pick wide receiver Josh Boyce is out with an injury, second-round pick wide receiver Aaron Dobson is questionable and undrafted free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is also questionable. His most targeted receiver this year is Julian Edelman who has 89 catches and his previous high was 37. Coming in second is Danny Amendola, a free agent signing to replace Welker, but he has missed four games with injury.

Despite all of these injuries and changes, Brady has still led the Patriots to a 10-4 record.

The Ravens will need to play physical with the receivers on the outside as both Edelman and Amendola are under six foot tall. The defense will also need to pressure Brady with various blitzes to force him to make quick decisions under pressure.

3.  Big Plays
This game has massive playoff implications so there will be a playoff-like atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. In games like this, big plays will be the difference.

Big plays can be one of two things: a large gain or a turnover.

Starting with large gains, these can come in many different forms. There could be a big kickoff or punt return, a long pass or catch and run, or even a long run after a handoff.

In the return game, the Ravens have a clear advantage with Jacoby Jones returning for them. The first-team All-Pro kick returner from last season missed a few games at the beginning of the season with a knee injury and then struggled in his first few games back. Now though, he is in full stride and has been busting out big returns in recent games. Against the New York Jets four weeks ago, he returned a punt 37 yards and had 108 punt return yards on five returns. Three weeks ago against the Pittsburgh Steelers he returned a kickoff 73 yards and almost scored a touchdown. Against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago he did as he took a kickoff 77 yards with 1:16 left in the game to give the Ravens the lead. Last week against the Detroit Lions he returned a kickoff 36 yards to the Ravens' 33-yard line to set up the Ravens' game-winning drive.

In the passing and rushing game, the Ravens and Patriots are balanced as the Ravens have the advantage passing and the Patriots do rushing the ball.

Moving to the turnover battle, the Patriots have the advantage. They have a turnover differential of plus six compared to the Ravens one of negative two. The Patriots have forced 25 turnovers (14 interceptions and 11 fumbles) while only turning it over 19 times (10 interceptions and nine fumbles). The Ravens have forced 20 turnovers (12 interceptions and eight fumbles) while turning it over 22 times (17 interceptions and five fumbles).

Last week, the Patriots were even in turnover differential as they threw for one interception and forced a fumble. The Ravens were plus three as they intercepted three passes while not turning the ball over.

This game is going to come down to who can make a big play when is comes down to it. Both the Ravens and Patriots have shown this ability and are balanced in this aspect.

4.  Run Game
A battle of bad meets bad when the Ravens have the ball on offense as the Ravens' run game ranks worst in yards per attempt and the Patriots' run defense ranks second-worst in yards per game.

The struggles for the Ravens stem from an ineffective offensive line and running backs that can't break tackles. This is a killer combination (and not in a good way). This has led to 3.0 yards per carry which is worse than all teams in the league and the next worse is at 3.3.

The offensive line has failed to provide any holes to running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. They haven't played well either though as they have failed to break tackles and take advantage of a hole when there has been one.

Injuries have been the main fault behind the Patriots' bad run defense. Starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are out for the season with injuries and the same goes for linebacker Jarod Mayo. These three (especially Wilfork and Mayo) were the better run defenders on the Patriots and their losses have really hurt the Patriots.

Rice has run up the middle a lot this season and with the Patriots hurting in that area, expect more of the same. One of the two units has to give way and have success for once. Right?

Ravens New Defense Fails

September 7, 2013 in Observations

By now, everyone knows that Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens new-look defense was supposed to be improved this year, but they definitely didn't look improved.

Looking at the final score of the game, you can tell that the defense struggled badly as the Ravens lost 49-27 and all 49 of these points were allowed by the defense.  The 49 points allowed is a new franchise record, not something you want to be doing on opening day of the NFL season.

Another franchise record that was set last night for the Ravens was touchdown passes allowed in a game as Manning threw seven and the previous record was five.  Going along with the passing touchdowns, last season, the Ravens allowed their seventh touchdown pass in week ten, against the Oakland Raiders.  That is quite a difference.

The main weakness of the Ravens' defense this week was the secondary.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with the only positive, cornerback Lardarius Webb made his return from a torn ACL and played great.  For the 27th straight game, Webb didn't allow a touchdown in coverage.  Playing outside and inside due to his coverage abilities and the struggles of the other cornerbacks, Webb ended up with one tackle and one pass deflection.  The low tackle number is a good sign for cornerbacks as it usually means they didn't give up many catches, which was the case in this game.  When Jacoby Jones left with a knee injury, Webb took over punt return duties. Since Jones is out 4-6 weeks, expect Webb to continue this duty.

After a great game with two interceptions against the Broncos in the playoffs last season, Corey Graham had a day to forget.  He gave up touchdowns and was constantly beaten by Wes Welker from the slot and Demaryius Thomas on the outside.  Graham's struggles from the slot against Welker led to Webb moving to the slot.

Jimmy Smith, who was expected to step up this season, gave up six catches for 114 yards according to Pro Football Focus.  Of these 114 yards, 28 of them came on a touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell where Smith was beat on a deep pass.  Another notable play in coverage from Smith was over pursuing a Thomas after a catch, turning a short gain into a 34-yard gain.  This occurred two plays before he gave up his touchdown.  On special teams, Smith was called for unnecessary roughness on a punt return in the third quarter.

At safety, new acquisition Michael Huff struggled throughout the night and you can partially attribute three touchdowns to him, both of Julius Thomas' and one of Demaryius Thomas'.  Huff was eventually benched for rookie Matt Elam who came in and recorded one tackle.  Overall, Huff just looked lost on the field.

James Ihedigbo, the other safety, recorded five tackles while playing every snap.  His night wasn't very noteworthy though as Manning picked on others over him.  Ihedigbo did miss a tackle on a touchdown for Demaryius Thomas.

Onto the linebackers now, Daryl Smith, as expected, was the play caller on defense, making audibles that were needed.  He only had four tackles but contributed two pass deflections in coverage and almost intercepted a pass in the second quarter.

Next to Smith, Josh Bynes played most of the game, leading the Ravens with eight tackles.  In run defense, he looked fine, which is expected. However, in pass coverage, Bynes looked lost and gave up multiple catches.  Rookie Arthur Brown was expected to come in for passing downs but he instead, Bynes stayed in, leaving Brown with just five snaps all game.  Brown was a good pass defender in college at Kansas State and in preseason he was a starter when the defense lined up in nickel.  Given how Bynes played in pass coverage, it is surprising that Brown only got in for five snaps, especially when you consider that he played with the first team defense in nickel during the preseason.

While the secondary was torched all night long, the pass rush and run defense were both positives to take from the game.

Three Ravens were able to get consistent pressure on Manning: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Chris Canty.  The Ravens rushed four players on a majority of plays and Suggs, Dumervil, and Canty were rushing most of the time.

Starting with Suggs, he finished with six tackles, one sack, and two more QB hits and hurries.  He also played well in run defense, setting the edge well.  Expected to have a big season, Suggs started the year off right.  Given that he is now the new leader of the defense, Suggs will have to get this group back together after this poor performance.

Dumervil had extra motivation for this game as he played for the Broncos last season and the split between the two wasn't exactly amicable. This extra motivation led to two tackles, one sack, and three other hurries.  On his sack, Dumervil dominated tight end Julius Thomas and by the time right tackle Orlando Franklin came over to help, it was to late.  This sack, along with Sugg's, came when the Ravens were still in the game.

Canty's one sack came when the Ravens were down 35-17 and all the momentum was with the Broncos and the game looked over by then. Along with his sack, Canty had two tackle and two other QB hits.  Coming over in free agency this offseason, Canty was expected to excel in the Ravens' 3-4 defense and he has started off well.

As I said in my game preview, stopping the pass and the new players were key for the Ravens.  Well, they didn't exactly stop the pass and only two of the new players really played well.  The Ravens also failed on special teams and the offensive line, which were my two other points, but that is a whole other discussion.

Anyways, the Ravens' defense needed to play well to win this game and they failed spectacularly.  The secondary showed why they were considered to be the weak point of the defense, and having only four cornerbacks on the roster isn't helping the cause.

Despite the play of the defense, there are positives to build on (Webb, Suggs, Dumervil, Canty, and the run defense).  Playing the Cleveland Browns next week, the defense will get a lesser test where they can hopefully come together and improve as a unit.

Ravens vs Broncos Injury Report

September 4, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

*Note*  Earlier today, the Ravens placed TE Dennis Pitta on injured reserve with a designation to return.

Out
DT Arthur Jones (Illness)

Arthur Jones

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)
WR Deonte Thompson (Foot)
DT Brandon Williams (Toe)

Probable
TE Ed Dickson (Thigh)
OLB Pernell McPhee (Knee)

Broncos

Out
RB C.J. Anderson (Knee)
CB Champ Bailey (Foot)
TE Joel Dreessen (Knee)

Doubtful
G Chris Kuper (Ankle)

Probable
DE Robert Ayers (Achilles)
OT Ryan Clady  (Shoulder)
QB Brock Osweiler (Left Shoulder)
WR Wes Welker (Ankle)

The Return Of Football: Ravens vs Broncos

September 4, 2013 in What to Look For

While it may not seem like it, the NFL season will start in two days with the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens heading to Denver to face the Broncos in a rematch of one of the best games, if not the best game, from last season where the Ravens stunned the heavily favored Broncos 38-35 in double overtime.

1.  New Players

By now, everyone knows the story of the Ravens offseason.  They lost many key players on both offense and defense and have since replaced them, but nobody knows how they will play in-game for the Ravens.  We have seen them in limited preseason time but considering the Detroit Lions team that went 0-16 in the regular season went 4-0 in the preseason, it wouldn't be smart to judge anyone off of their preseason play.

The most roster turnover is on defense where there will be seven different starters from the starting lineup from Super Bowl XLVII.  On the defensive line, Chris Canty comes in and will start at defensive end and the 6'7" Canty is a great fit for the position.  There will be three new starters at linebackers where Elvis Dumervil comes in on the outside and Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes will play on the inside.  The secondary has three new starters as well in cornerback Lardarius Webb who is coming of a torn ACL and Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo at safety.

Out of these seven, the main player to watch is Dumervil as he will be going up against his former team.  The split between these two was very publicized and became known as "Faxgate."  Paired with Terrell Suggs, Dumervil should make an impact with his pass rushing ability.

On the offense, everyone is looking at the receiver position and who can replace the production of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.  Brandon Stokley will contribute as a slot receiver but someone else is needed as well.  The candidates are Deonte Thompson, Aaron Mellette, and Marlon Brown.  Thompson is injured and probably won't play, which leaves Mellette and Brown.  Brown showed the best connection with Flacco in preseason, but that needs to be shown in a real game.  After this game, we should get a better look at who else will be a key contributor in the passing game.

This game is going to be won or lost depending on how these new players play.

2.  Offensive Line

During the Ravens playoff run last season, the most important thing for their success was the offensive line.  The line was moved around for the playoffs and played the best it had all season.  Quarterback Joe Flacco had plenty of time to find receivers behind the revamped line and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce found plenty of running lanes.

Elvis Dumervil

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This play needs to continue into this season for Flacco and the Ravens to be successful.  There has been one change on the offensive line as Gino Gradkowski takes over for the retired Matt Birk at center.  While there might be some growing pains, the transition from Birk to Gradkowski should go over well.

Last year when the Ravens faced off against the Broncos, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil were playing for the Broncos and giving offensive lines fits.  Now, they have neither as Miller is suspended for the first six games of the season and Dumervil is now a Raven.  In two games against the Ravens last year, Miller and Dumervil combined for 2 sacks and 7 QB hits.

Replacing that pass rush will be Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers who combined for 11.5 sacks compared to the 29.5 sacks from Miller and Dumervil.  Those 29.5 sacks accounted for 56.7 percent of the Broncos 52 sacks from last season.

Offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher will have a much easier time trying to block Phillips and Ayers instead of Miller and Dumervil.  This will allow Flacco more time to find open receivers and he showed during last year's playoffs that he can be a dangerous quarterback when he has time to throw.

3.  Stopping the Pass

The Broncos passing game has the potential to be lights outs.  With future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, you don't need to have a top receiving corps, but the Broncos do with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker.  This combination can give defensive coordinators nightmares.

These three receivers form arguably the best receiving corps in the league.  Thomas is the deep threat, Decker is a sure-handed receiver, and Welker is the perfect slot receiver.  Welker sprained his ankle in the preseason but is expected to be fine for the season opener.

Stopping the passing game will be a tough assignment.  In order to do this, the Ravens defense will have to confuse Manning at the line-of-scrimmage with different looks, trying to make him think the defense is doing one thing when they are doing another.  If the defense can do this, they will have won half of the battle.  However, Manning is one of the best at diagnosing defenses and audibling to a play that works good against the defense.  Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was great at changing the defense's calls when Manning changed his, but Lewis has retired, and Daryl Smith now has his job.

The Ravens secondary will have their hands full no matter what.  Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' number one cornerback, missed both match-ups with the Broncos last year due to a torn ACL.  Corey Graham intercepted Manning twice in the playoffs, including one that was returned for a touchdown.  The nickel cornerback will be Jimmy Smith who has been up-and-down throughout his NFL career.  Forth cornerback Chykie Brown will see some time in sub-packages as well.  When this happens, Webb and Graham will move inside to cover the slot receivers and Smith and Brown will take the outside ones.  Webb has shutdown Welker from the slot before, when Welker was with the New England Patriots.

With all the new players on the Ravens' defense, communication is going to be a huge factor.  They haven't played a full game together yet so nobody knows how well they will communicate.  Manning is a big test for this due to his audibles.  The defense will have to be communicating before every play to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to.  The lack of playing time together for the defense could become an issue.

The main reason that the stopping the pass will be important is that the Broncos running game is anything but stable right now.  Ronnie Hillman is having fumbling issues and wasn't very effective in spot time last season, Montee Ball is a rookie and it is unknown what he will offer, and Knowshon Moreno keeps getting relegated to the backups but then becomes a starter after the other backs fail.

With the running game being uncertain, the Broncos will rely on their passing game to try and win the game.  If the Ravens can slow this passing game down, they can probably stop the Broncos entire offense.

4.  Special Teams

Often overlooked, special teams played a big role in both the Ravens' 2012 season and the playoff matchup against the Broncos.

After not giving up a return touchdown at all in the regular season, the Ravens' coverage teams suffered a meltdown in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos where they allowed Trindon Holliday to return a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown.

Broncos kicker Matt Prater missed a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter.  This miss turned out to be crucial as the Ravens used the good field position they received from the miss to drive for a quick touchdown right before the half ended.

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker won the game with a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime.  Just in this one game, special teams had a big impact.

For the Ravens regular season, special teams were key throughout.  Returner Jacoby Jones had two kickoff returns and one punt return for a touchdown in the regular season.  Adding to that, he returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.  Without Jones' returns, the Ravens season would have looked very different.  The punt return for touchdown was crucial as it was the only touchdown that the Ravens scored in a win over the Steelers.

As a rookie kicker, Tucker more than exceeded expectations as he went 30-of-33 for the season in the regular season and 4-of-4 in the postseason.

In this game, special teams will be important for a few reasons.  If either team gets a return touchdown, they will probably end up winning as this should be a very close game.  Since it should be a close game, field position will be huge, so punting will be important in setting up field position for each team.  Lastly, a field goal very well could decide this game, like before, so both kickers will need to be on top of their game.

Ravens Advance To Super Bowl XLVII

January 22, 2013 in Observations

In a rematch of last years AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens outlasted the New England Patriots by a score of 28-13.  At halftime the score was 13-7 to the Patriots.  Once the second half started the Ravens had a new offensive scheme, pass the ball.  This worked as it led to 21 second half points.  The defense rose to the occasion and shut the Patriots out in the second half.  In the first half, the Ravens were out played but, in the second half, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots.  Before this game, the Patriots had won 71 games in a row under head coach Bill Belichick when leading at half, including a 67-0 record when the quarterback is Tom Brady.  Now the Ravens will head to New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII.  They will have the San Francisco 49ers who are coached by the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh.  The game will take place on February 3rd and kickoff is at 6:29 pm Eastern time.

The Red Zone
The Ravens play in the red zone, on offense and defense, is what won them this game.  On offense, they made it to the red zone four times and, scored four touchdowns.  This offensive efficiency can make an offense almost unstoppable, as long as they can actually get to the red zone. On defense, they allowed the Patriots to make it in to the red zone four times but, they only scored one touchdown.  The Patriots also got to the Ravens 24 and 22-yard line but, the Ravens were able to force interceptions both times.  This red zone defense describes this years Ravens defense.  They are not the best in the league anymore however, once the other team makes it to the red zone, they dig in and stop the offense. It is very hard to lose a game when you have these two stats on your side.

Joe Flacco
For Flacco, it was almost like two different games.  In the first half, he went 6-of-12 for 81 yards with 0 TDs or INTs.  This isn't bad quarterbacking but, it also isn't how an elite one plays.  In the second half though, he went 15-of-24 for 159 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  His QBR was 80.2 and his QB rating was 106.2 compared to Tom Brady's QBR of 45.1 and QB rating of 62.3.  Brady also threw 2 INTs.  So, for the third time in as many games, Flacco has outplayed Tom Brady and, two of these games have been the AFC Championship.

As stated above, the Ravens offensive strategy in the second half changed.  In the first half they had been doing a lot of run plays, especially on first down.  The offense just looked really conservative in the first half.  At halftime, there were some changes as the Ravens came out throwing in the second half.  In fact, Flacco accounted for 70% of the Ravens offense in the second half.  With this change, the offense started to move the ball.  Soon they had taken a 14-13 lead and they never looked back after that.

On to more game specific things, Flacco never really got the deep ball going as his longest completion of the game went for 26 yards to Anquan Boldin.  The lack of a deep passing game can be attributed to the weather as it was very windy on the field with the wind at around 20 mph if I remember correctly.  All of Flacco's touchdown passes were good but the one that stood out to me was the first to Anquan Boldin.  The first was a play action jump ball.  After the fake, Flacco threw the ball up where only Boldin could get it.  Flacco also had one rush attempt where he scrambled and picked up 14 yards and a first down.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates throwing one of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots.

Ray Rice
Starting with his performance in the passing game, Rice had 3 catches for 22 yards on 4 targets.  Of these three catches, two of them went for first downs.  The most memorable was a 15 yard screen pass.  The Patriots originally had the screen covered but, Rice got away and Flacco threw it.  Rice broke three tackles on his way to the first down.  Now to the run game.  While Rice had 19 rushes, he only ran for 48 yards which is an average of 2.5 yards per carry.  Three of these rushes went for first downs.  One was a 5 yard run that put the ball on the Patriots 2-yard line after he ran for eight yards the play before.  Another of his first downs was a short run on a 2nd and 2 which put the ball on the Patriots 3-yard line.  The last of his first downs was a 3rd and 1 run with five minutes left in the game which helped run more time off the clock.  Along with his 48 rush yards, Rice also had a rushing touchdown.  He only went for two yards but, he broke two tackles on the way.  The play called for Rice to run up the middle but, like most of the game, there wasn't running room in the middle.  So, Rice bounced the run outside to the left and scored. The only negative from Rice is he had a false start on a 3rd an 8 from the Ravens own 29-yard line.  This was early in the game so it can probably be accounted to nerves.

Bernard Pierce
While couldn't get much going on the ground, Pierce had much more success.  On 9 carries he had 52 yards.  Three of these carries went for first downs.  One of them was a 2nd and 5 run for nine yards which put the ball on the Patriots 22-yard line and another was a 3rd and 2 draw that he was able to bounce outside for a gain of eleven, the longest rush by any running back in the game.  Pierce also had 1 catch for 8 yards.  This also went for a first down; it was a 2nd and 8 swing pass that just barely was enough for the first.

Torrey Smith
Unlike the Denver game, Smith wasn't able to catch a deep pass but, he still had an impact on the game.  Most of his catches were in the intermediate range due to the wind.  He had 4 catches for 69 yards on 9 targets.  He had three of these go for first downs.  The first was a 25 yard catch on play action on a 2nd and 6 which put the Ravens on the Patriots 15-yard line.  The second was a 2nd and 14 conversion that went for 23 yards.  Lastly, he had a 16 yard catch on a first down.

Anquan Boldin
This was another record setting game for Boldin.  With his two touchdown catches, Boldin became the Ravens all-time postseason receiving touchdown leader.  He had 5 catches for 60 yards with 2 TDs on 8 targets.  All of these catches came in the second half and only one wasn't a first down or touchdown.  One of these first down catches was a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards and the other was on 2nd and 10 that put the ball on the Patriots 10-yard line.  Boldin's first touchdown was on the first play of the fourth quarter.  The other touchdown (the first was discussed with Flacco), was on a 2nd and 4 and was for 12 yards.  Boldin lined up in the slot and ran a seam route, Flacco threw it up and Boldin caught it for another touchdown.

Anquan Boldin

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin celebrates a touchdown with WRs Torrey Smith (left) and Jacoby Jones (right) nearby.

Dennis Pitta
For the second game in a row, Pitta had 55 receiving yards.  This week he did it on 5 catches with 7 targets.  Three of these catches went for first downs, one for a touchdown, and the other was in the red zone.  Starting with his first down catches, Pitta had a 3rd and 4 catch from deep in Ravens territory, a 2nd and 10 catch for a gain of over 20 yards, and a 2nd and 4 catch that put the ball on the Patriots 13-yard line.  His touchdown was on 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line and was a quick pass.  Lastly, his other catch occurred on the play before his touchdown.  It was first and goal from the ten and he went over the middle.  Pitta caught the ball and took a big hit but still was able to hold on to the ball.  On the negative side, Pitta had a diving catch go right through his hands on a 3rd and 8.

Offensive Line
Yet again, the offensive line performed great.  They only gave up two sacks for a combined loss of five yards which is nothing in terms of sack yardage.  The first sack was given up by LT Bryant McKinnie on a 3rd and 6 from inside the Ravens own 10-yard line. The other sack was more of a coverage sack and Flacco was starting to scramble so it wasn't really the fault of the offensive line.  It only went for a loss of one so it was basically a failed run play.  None of the offensive linemen were called for a penalty which is very impressive.  In the run game, they got some movement but for the most past, there never were any big holes to run through.  Of the offensive line can protect Flacco like this for one more game, they could be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.

Haloti Ngata
Ngata may have only had four tackles but, for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense, that is good.  One of these tackles was a run stop for no gain.  The part of the game that Ngata was the best at yesterday was rushing the passer.  Ngata finished with three of the Ravens seven QB hits (they didn't record a sack but seemed to have a fair amount of pressure).  On a 4th and 4 play from the Ravens 19-yard line, Ngata had pressure with Terrell Suggs which caused Brady to throw the ball away.  Once the Ravens made this stop, it seemed like the Ravens were going to win and make it to the Super Bowl.  This play is an attribute to Ngata's speed as Brady had an open field in front of him but didn't run because he probably wouldn't have made it.  Ngata also had pressure on another play which caused a throw away.  The last play where Ngata caused a throw away was with two minutes left.  Ngata had pressure which caused Brady to throw the ball away.

Pernell McPhee
So how does a defensive lineman without a tackle make it here?  Simple, deflect two passes (including one that leads to a touchdown) and say that you have discovered Tom Brady's flaw.  First, McPhee batted away a pass in the fourth quarter that Dannell Ellerbe was able to intercept. After this interception, with seven minutes left in the game, it seemed like the game really was over as the Patriots never got the ball back until there were two minutes left.  The other pass deflection came with under two minutes left in game.  On to him discovering Brady's flaw, McPhee says "He throws all of his balls low."  When asked about how Brady has been so successful despite this McPhee said "He just throws it fast and he always gets good pockets.  But I tried to stay in front of him after watching film and knowing where he likes to go and how he likes to do it.  So that was my best advantage, just get my hands up."  This strategy clearly worked for McPhee as he had his two pass deflections at the line.

Pernell McPhee

Ravens DE Pernell McPhee batted down two passes at the line-of-scrimmage.

Ray Lewis
As usual, Lewis recorded double digit tackles with 14 but, according to Pro Football Focus, only two of those were defensive stops (runs for little or no gain).  Lewis was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit which was the right call even though it was pretty obvious that he didn't mean to do it. Lastly, after the game, Lewis fell to the ground and started saying "Hallelujah."

Dannell Ellerbe
Starting with pass coverage, Ellerbe gave up three catches for one first down.  With about seven minutes left in the game, Ellerbe intercepted Brady off of McPhee's tip.  This came the next play after Wes Welker caught a 56 yard pass.  The last positive for Ellerbe was a pressure on Brady which caused a bad deep pass that ended up going out-of-bounds.  Also on this play, Ellerbe was able to take down Brady.  On the negative side Ellerbe was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after slapping a Patriots offensive lineman when a play was over. Ellerbe was retaliating to a late block but, you can't do that in the NFL and he was flagged, even if his slap barely was anything.

Terrell Suggs
While Suggs is though of as a pass rusher, he is actually quite a good run defender and this was on full display yesterday.  Suggs had two run stops for no gain including one on a 2nd and 1.  In the pass rush department he wasn't able to record a sack (like all of the Ravens) but, still had at least two pressures.  The first was on the 4th and 4 with Haloti Ngata as already discussed.  The other was with under two minutes left where he hit Brady as he threw causing an incompletion.

Walking off the field, Suggs was overheard saying "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant f—ers" and "These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down."  He also said "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win" though I don't know if he said this one to reporters or if he was overheard like the other two.  He did respond to reporters saying "All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club … They have the right to be arrogant."  While he may believe this, there is no reason to say this but, on the positive side, he didn't come out and say it to the media, he was just overheard.  Either way, the Ravens don't need publicity like this, especially after these two controversial things about the Patriots.

Bernard Pollard
It seemed like Pollard was all over the field going full speed all night.  He finished with 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble.  In the run game, Pollard had a run stop for a gain of two yards.  In pass coverage, he only gave up one pass.  On a blitz he was able to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.  This batted pass came on 1st and goal from the Ravens two-yard line.  On a 3rd and 4 from the Ravens 19-yard line, he had great coverage and forced an incompletion.  Pollard had a big hit on a receiver but was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  However, he led with his shoulder on the play and his shoulder hit the receiver on his head so I am going to call this one a bad call.

Lastly is the play we all remember, his hit and forced fumble on Patriots RB Stevan Ridley.  Pollard hit Ridley hard and they both lowered their heads on the play so it was a helmet-to-helmet hit but since it was a running back it isn't a penalty.  Ridley was unconscious before he hit the ground and on his way down, the ball came out of his hands and was recovered by DT Arthur Jones.  Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said "That [Pollard's hit] was the turning point of the game. A tremendous hit, football at its finest."  This play goes in line with Pollard's history with the Patriots.  In 2008, it was Pollard that hit Brady when he tore his ACL.  In 2009, it was Pollard that Welker was trying to avoid when he tore his ACL.  In 2012, it was Pollard that injured Rob Gronkowski ankle which limited him in the Super Bowl.

Bernard Pollard

Ravens S Bernard Pollard goes in for a tackle.

Cary Williams
Williams had a solid performance last night only giving up four completions and one first down.  He also had a deflection on a 3rd and 2 that went right to Paul Kruger but, since the deflection took a weird bounce off of Williams, Kruger dropped it because he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him.  Lastly, Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone with 1:06 left in the game.  After this interception the Ravens just took a two knees and the game was over.

Corey Graham
Like Williams, Graham gave up four completions, however, three of his went for first downs and the other was for the Patriots only touchdown of the game.  The touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the one.  After the play, Graham and Chykie Brown were upset because they didn't communicate well after the Patriots motioned a receiver over.  This led to Welker being open for the touchdown.  Graham was also beaten on the first drive on a 3rd and 2 but Welker dropped the pass.  On a pass that Welker didn't drop, Graham was beat deep for 56 yards.  He bit badly on the double move leaving Welker wide open.  Ending on a positive note, Graham had a run stop for a loss of one on a 3rd and 2 which forced a field goal by the Patriots.

Jimmy Smith
This game was the first time in a while that Smith received substantial playing time.  Brown started as the nickel corner and then Smith took it over.  By the end of the game it seemed like they were being rotated.  This could have been part of the game plan to put Graham on Welker instead of Brown doing that.  This would mean that Graham would be in the slot.  Since Smith is better on the outside than Brown, he would come in when in nickel.  This is just a speculation so it will be interesting to see who is the nickel corner in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrates the Ravens win in the locker room.