Here we are, back again in Foxborough.
The Ravens Super Bowl dreams once again rest in the task of getting past Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Here are just a few of the key match-ups to look for during this Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
Ravens Wide Receiver Torrey Smith vs. Patriots Cornerback Aqib Talib
Talib wasn’t on the Pats roster during the Week Three regular season matchup when Smith torched the secondary for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s physical press corner who will attempt to jam Smith at the line and take him out of the offense. In four playoff appearances Smith averages almost 25 yards a reception and his big play ability has hurt the Patriots secondary in their past few meetings.
Ravens Inside Linebacker Ray Lewis vs. Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez
Rob Gronkowski is out this time around and that takes away a top target for Brady in the red-zone but Hernandez is equally as skilled and will test Baltimore’s linebackers. Lewis has been playing inspired football and has shown great instincts against the run however his age often shows when being asked to cover slot receivers and tight ends over the middle. I’d expect Hernandez to get plenty of attention this Sunday.
Ravens Cornerbacks Cary Williams/Corey Graham vs. Patriots Receivers Wes Welker/Brandon Lloyd
New England finished first in the league in points (34.8) and fourth in passing yards (291) and Welker is a big reason why. The Patriots do a good job of getting him in space on crossing routes and letting his speed piled up yards after the catch. He and Lloyd combined for 250 receiving yards against Baltimore during the regular season. The Ravens tandem is playing their best football of the season. Graham has seized his opportunity of more playing time with two interceptions last week against Peyton Manning while Williams has been solid over the past weeks on his assignments.
Ravens Running Back Ray Rice vs. Patriots Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork
Rice is another key to the Baltimore attack especially if the weather report of twenty mile per hour winds hold true during game time. Media pundits love to talk about the NFL as a passing league but I see a key point being which team can run the ball more effectively. Rice responded in Denver with 131 yds. on the ground on 30 carries (highest workload of the season) and a touchdown. Wilfork had a huge game against the Ravens line, especially Matt Birk in last season’s playoff encounter. Baltimore will need to decide how to block the massive Pro Bowler and keep him from creating negative plays for his defense.
Ravens Linebackers Paul Kruger/Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots Offensive Tackles Nate Solder/Sebastian Vollmer
Kruger came into his own this season as the Ravens top pass rusher. Suggs has fought through two potentially season ending injuries and is playing on grit and determination although he did notch two sacks last week in Denver which could be an encouraging sign. The Ravens ability to pressure Tom Brady and disrupt the rhythm of his quick strike offense will be another important key to victory.