Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ravens-Patriots: Colossal opportunities for Brady, Flacco

The Ravens closed out an ugly win against Houston on Sunday. The Patriots rolled to a romp over the Broncos. It’s easy to say that New England holds the momentum, but the last time these two teams met in the playoffs, Baltimore’s defense harassed Tom Brady.

A trip to the Super Bowl is now on the line.

The way Brady played on Saturday was out of this world. 363 yards and six touchdowns. Unreal is a good word for his performance. If Brady can keep this up, he’s going to beat whoever he plays. However, he faces an interesting matchup in the Baltimore defense.

They are a physical bunch that can really rough up Brady, which will be the key. Not trying to take anything away from the Ravens’ secondary, who had three picks on Sunday, but Brady is not T. J. Yates. Brady has the advantage over the secondary, which is why the Ravens will need to get pressure.

Everyone knows that Brady is a different quarterback when he is under duress. The Broncos couldn’t get any pressure on him and he tore them apart. The Ravens’ pass rush will have to hit him early and often if they want to have any chance in this one. Expect Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and the rest of the purple birds to have sacking Brady on their mind.

The real x-factor is Haloti Ngata. Ngata is an athletic defensive tackle that has a nose for not only stopping the run, but getting to the quarterback as well. He could pose problems for Brady, who isn’t a very mobile signal caller.

The Ravens played a pretty good game against the Texans. They are 4th against the pass and 2nd against the run. They face a new element in Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and the New England offense. Gronkowski will be a top priority for Suggs and the defense. They cannot let him have a big game.

John Harbaugh will probably catch on to the use of Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez in the backfield, so Bill Belichick will have to get creative again in the rushing attack. BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn’t have much success (13 carries, 28 yards) against Denver, but Steven Ridley and Danny Woodhead were effective in limited touches. A big game by Green-Ellis could go a long way for New England, but if Brady is on his game, it may not matter.

There has been a question mark on the Ravens offense and it has been mainly Joe Flacco, but after the game against the Texans, there may be cause for concern about Ray Rice.

I said that the Ravens would need to give Rice plenty of carries if they wanted to win. They gave him 21 carries, but he only got 60 yards. That smells like trouble. Although the Patriots run defense is not like that of the Texans’, they aren’t slouches either, and they’ve also had to face some elite running backs (Ryan Mathews, Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Willis McGahee, Fred Jackson, and Reggie Bush twice). It didn’t hurt the Ravens too much last week, but Rice must get going for that offense to have success.

Back to Flacco, he has shown nothing to make me believe in him. Mark Sanchez has gotten criticized so much this season, but is there really a difference between him and Flacco? Flacco has only had more success because he has a better team surrounding him.

On Sunday, Flacco completed barely over half of his passes for less than 200 yards. I understand that it was against a dominant Texans’ secondary, but now is Flacco’s chance to prove to the world why he is a good quarterback. He has a perfect matchup against the New England secondary that has been shredded all year. If he can beat Brady and lead his team to the Super Bowl, he will be regarded a lot higher.

It remains to be seen if the New England pass rush will be as effective against they were against Denver. If they can do the same against the Ravens’ offensive line, Flacco will be in for a long day.

The biggest key for the Ravens’ success will be field position. Turnovers gave the Ravens great field position and helped Flacco throw his two touchdowns. If they can force the Patriots into turning the ball over in their own territory, a win may be imminent.

This matchup looks to be one similar to the Saints-49ers duel, a battle between offense and defense. However, I don’t see Flacco doing what Alex Smith just did, and the 49ers defense is better than the Ravens.

Brady should have a good day but I think the Ravens defense will do a good enough job limiting him to keep it close. Rice will have a nice bounce-back game and do his usual work for the Ravens’ offense. However, the difference maker is Flacco, and I’m just not ready to trust him yet.

New England 31, Baltimore 23

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