Five to Focus On: New England Patriots
Saturday’s thrilling double overtime victory over the Broncos is a win that will resonate for a long time in Ravens Nation.
For the third time in five seasons Baltimore is in the AFC Championship game. Even more compelling is that they are re-matched against a team in New England that beat them last season for a right to go to the Super Bowl.
Here are a few quick points to think about as Baltimore plans for retribution and chance at a trip to New Orleans Sunday night.
1) Tom Brady. When it comes to beating New England it begins and ends with Brady. On Sunday the Patriots quarterback set an NFL record for post-season victories (17) after his team disposed of Houston 41-28. The good news is that the Ravens have caused Brady fits unlike any other team in the league. He is 2-2 against Baltimore in the last 4 meetings. Over that span he’s thrown 4 touchdowns against 7 interceptions and most of his picks have come on deep passes. The Patriot offense is all about timing and rhythm so it’s important to get Brady out of his comfort zone in order to gain a victory.
2) Improved running game. The Patriots have two young runners in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen that were key in their divisional win over Houston combining for 4 touchdowns and 226 Total yards. During the regular season the Ravens were able limit the Patriots to 2.3 yds per carry in their week three contest. In Sunday’s re-match Baltimore must control the line and force the Patriots into long conversions.
3) Vince Wilfork. Another key in winning Sunday will be for the Ravens offensive line to continue it’s hot stretch and open holes in the run game. Baltimore is 6-0 this season when they have a 100 yd. rusher. A big part part of that challenge will be blocking the massive five-time Pro Bowler. Wilfork has caused problems before mainly the last time these teams met for the championship where he bullied Matt Birk most of the game. His interior presence is a major concern and he’ll need to be accounted for in the run blocking schemes.
4) No Gronk, More Problems. Rob Gronkowski has been ruled out for the rest of the post-season after he broke his arm for a second time against Houston. His massive mitts will be missed in the red zone for sure but he didn’t hurt Baltimore when they matched up Week Three. (2 catches, 21 yds.) Instead the New England wideout tandem of Wes Welker (8 for 142) and Brandon Lloyd (9 for 108) tortured the secondary and piled up the yardage. The versitile Aaron Hernandez also provides a more athletic target for Brady in the passing game. He caught 6 passes for 85 yards including a monster 40-yd catch and run last Sunday. The Patriot offense has no trouble spreading the ball around and making every player a threat.
5) History. I’m not a huge fan of these types of stats but I’ll write them anyway. The Pats have played host to the AFC Championship game 4 times (96′, 03′, 07′,11′) and each time they went to the Super Bowl. Brady is also hoping to tie quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with Super Bowl rings with four. A win against the Ravens would give him his 6th Bowl appearance. History doesn’t favor the Ravens in this AFC Title rematch either. Since 1970 when two teams face each other for the championship in back to back years the team that won the first meeting is a perfect 5-0 in the second.