One game stands between the Ravens’ first return to the Super Bowl since the 2000 season.
The team standing in the way in the AFC Championship is New England, a group that’s always hard to defeat, especially at home. New England is 6-1 all time against Baltimore and has won three Super Bowls since 2001, the season after the Ravens took home their one and only Vince Lombardi Trophy.Even with the NFL’s 31st ranked defense, the Patriots managed to win 13 regular season games and blew out Denver in the divisional round of the playoffs. As long as quarterback Tom Brady is running New England’s high octane offensive attack, it may not matter how weak the Patriots are on defense.
“This is the most explosive offense in football right now, certainly the most explosive offense left in the tournament right now,” coach John Harbaugh said.
So how does Baltimore, a 7.5-point underdog according to the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, defeat the Patriots?
1) Keep the ball out of Brady’s hands.
Against Denver, the much-maligned New England defense stepped up to the challenge of stopping the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack. This put Brady’s hands on the ball plenty of times in the first half, and he led the Pats to five first-half touchdowns.
The Ravens had a hard time running against Houston as running back Ray Rice had just 60 yards on 21 carries. But this New England front seven is not Houston’s. Houston may be next year’s preseason Super Bowl favorite with outside linebacker Mario Williams back. Rice should find running room on Sunday, like he did against the Patriots in the wild card round of the 2009 playoffs.
Here’s another stat: In 12 games this year, the Ravens are 10-2 against NFL top 10 defenses. If Rice and the Ravens can control the ball and control the clock against a defense that isn’t as strong as units they’ve faced earlier this season, they’ll have a good chance of limiting what Brady and the Patriots can do offensively.
2) Confuse Brady before the snap
The Broncos were vanilla on defense against the Patriots and Brady made them pay. After Brady broke each huddle and looked at Denver’s defense, he not only knew where his receivers were going to be, but he knew where the Broncos’ defenders were headed as well. This made it easy for him to pick apart Denver for 363 yards and six touchdowns.
The Ravens do a good job of disguising looks and will need to do so against Brady. If he gets an inkling of an opposition’s tendencies, the game is usually over early.
“You can’t be a wooden Indian in there, like a stick figure,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “You can’t just stand there. You’ve got to disguise, you’ve got to move.”
3) It’s Flacco Time
Joe Flacco doesn’t need to match Brady throw for throw. He shouldn’t feel pressured to shoulder the load of the offense, especially with Rice being the unit’s focal point. With that said, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots not putting a decent number of points on the scoreboard, even with the Ravens sporting one of the NFL’s best defenses.
“It would be safe to say we’re going to have to score points to win this game,” receiver Torrey Smith said.
Flacco needs to play mistake-free football and channel the Joe Flacco that Ravens fans saw on the road against Pittsburgh. If Flacco operates and executes the offensive game plan accordingly while getting defensive stops, the Ravens will be in this game by the end of the fourth quarter and have a shot at advancing to their second Super Bowl.
by Jason Butt