Patriots vs Ravens AFC Championship Preview
Tom Brady is 4-1 all-time against the Baltimore Ravens. But the most important of the five match-ups was quite a doozy for the Patriots.
The 2009 Wild Card Round was a frustrating one for 10-6 New England Patriots who’s defense was shutting down opponents left and right, while their offense kept putting up big points.
But the Ravens were all over Tom Brady, holding him to just 154 yards, two touchdowns and forcing three interceptions.
Brady finished with his worst passer rating of any game he’s started at 71.4.
But this game looks to be much closer than the 33-14 beat down on that frustrating day.
Despite the Patriots defense struggling all season, they’ve managed to win 13 games and they shut down Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the Divisional Playoff Round.
Baltimore had a closer battle with the Texans in the Divisional Playoffs as both teams had a first round BYE.
Here are five things to watch for in the 2011 AFC Conference Championship game.
1. How much will the tight ends for the Patriots make a difference?
The 2009 battle didn’t feature either the two stellar tight ends in Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez.
The Ravens met both tight ends in 2010 in Week 5, but neither play had truly broken out yet.
But this year, the Ravens will meet both guys. Gronkowski is a threat to make catches all over the field, especially in the red zone, while Hernandez is a threat to make a play after the catch.
Ed Reed is a great cover safety over the top, but covering both of these guys is a tough task, as well as taking care of the other offensive options in New England.
2. Can Baltimore put enough pressure on Tom Brady to force poor throws?
In the Divisional Playoffs against Houston, the Baltimore Ravens registered 0 sacks. That’s quite a disappointment from the 48 that they registered in 2011, good for third place in the NFL.
That was against a rookie in T.J. Yates who had no intentions of playing in 2011, but was forced into action with Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart going on the I.R.
It’s one thing to give a young, inexperienced quarterback in Yates time to throw in the pocket.
It’s another thing to let Tom Brady have 3+ seconds to make a decision in the pocket and throw the ball all around.
Baltimore has the talent defensively with guys like Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Jarrett Johnson, but they need to deliver results this week to eliminate more disappointment.
3. Is the Patriots defense good enough to shut down Ray Rice?
The inexperience of the Patriots defense has really shown this season, especially with all of the injuries all over the defense.
Losing guys seemingly every week does not help them win football games.
Their defense has been poor all season, having only the Green Bay Packers give up more yardage defensively (we saw how that went against the Giants).
Ray Rice is going to get the ball 20-25 times, and in a game that will be played in poor conditions, likely, as a defense you want an erratic quarterback like Joe Flacco feeling pressured to make plays.
If the Patriots can keep tabs on Rice and force Flacco to beat them in the air, then they have a pretty good shot to win this football game.
4. How will Tom Brady handle the tough secondary in Baltimore?
Just how good has the Baltimore defense been? They’ve given up just 11 touchdowns in the air to opposing quarterbacks.
That’s less than one per game, which is insane.
The Patriots offense revolves around what Tom Brady does in the passing game. 300+ yards and two touchdowns is a pretty standard number for a guy like Brady.
But this game is going to be much tougher with a secondary featuring much improved Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed in the defensive back field.
Expect Brady to use those two tight ends quite a bit on Sunday.
5. Can Baltimore play with the same intensity on the road than at home?
Baltimore did not lose at home this year, as they were 9-0 including the Divisional Playoffs.
On the road, they managed .500 at 4-4, showing issues with traveling and not playing their most intense football.
Going into Gillette Stadium is a tough challenge, especially to face a team that is 8-1 at home in the Patriots.
NFL Soup Consensus Pick: New England 27 Baltimore 23