Baltimore Ravens-New England Patriots Preview

courtesy of ESPN.com

courtesy of ESPN.com

Apparently two years has not softened Terrell Suggs’ opinion on the New England Patriots. After the Baltimore Ravens’ victory in the 2012 AFC Championship, he deliriously yelled that the Patriots were “arrogant f—–s”. This year, he’s toned it down to accusing the New England squad of just being “arrogant”.

The New England Patriots (1) host the Baltimore Ravens (6) on Saturday, January 10 at 4:35 p.m.

This is the fourth postseason in the last six years in which Baltimore will play New England. Not only that, but each time the Ravens have taken to the road. Of the previous three results, Baltimore has won twice. In all three contests, the Ravens defense has kept Tom Brady and the Patriot offense to 20 or fewer points. (That’s why NE -7.5, the opening Vegas line, will definitely be covered by Baltimore.)

  • 2009 Wild Card: Baltimore defeats New England 33-14
  • 2011 AFC Championship: New England defeats Baltimore 23-20
  • 2012 AFC Championship: Baltimore defeats New England 28-13

And, as you can probably tell, I’m a shameless New England homer. This is why I’ve asked my good friend Alex Keller, Baltimore Ravens fan, to write a dueling column as to why he believes the Ravens will win and I can keep my conscience clean and ignore all possible negative scenarios for the Patriots.

DuelingColumns

Why the Ravens will win… 

The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots have met for a playoff battle on three occasions since 2009, with the Ravens winning all three.

The history books may tell you differently if you were to look back at the 2011 match-up, but believe me, Baltimore would have won that game if not for the most egregious drop in playoff history by Lee Evans.

So, the point is, in the past five seasons the Ravens have gone up to Foxborough, MA and outplayed the Patriots in all three of their games.

Not only have the Raven’s outplayed the Patriots in their head-to-head games, but they have been the better playoff team as well. Since Harbaugh became head coach of the Ravens, they have more playoff wins than any other team in the league, boasting a 10-4 record. During that same span, the Patriots are a mediocre 6-6, despite playing eleven of those twelve games at home.

The main reason for the Ravens being such a great playoff team, and why they have had the advantage over the Patriots is their normally average quarterback, Joe Flacco. In his last two playoff games against Brady (I would include their first meeting, but Flacco only threw the ball ten times), Flacco has made fewer mistakes and been a better overall quarterback.

If you do not believe me, here are the numbers from their past two meetings to prove it:
Flacco: 546 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT
Brady: 559 yards,1 TD, 4 INTs

This should come as no surprise to “Cool Joe” supporters. In fact, it can be argued that Joe Flacco is the best playoff quarterback in the NFL. Flacco is the all-time leader in road playoff wins with seven. He has the record for most consecutive games with a 100 or better passer rating, and he has a 17:1 touchdown to interception ratio since the 2011 in the playoffs.

So, as disappointing Flacco is to most Ravens fans during the regular season, once he makes it to the playoffs, I would take him over Brady in heartbeat. Some may think it will be difficult Flacco to outperform Brady again. New England has a better secondary than the Ravens have ever seen, and Baltimore has six defensive backs on the Injured Reserve (five of them cornerbacks), including their number one corner, Jimmy Smith.

Aside from better cornerback play, which I will get to in a moment, the main reason the Ravens will not be ripped to shreds by the New England passing attack is their tenacious pass rush. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have the most sacks of any duo of teammates in the league. The addition of Haloti Ngata and the emergence of young players like Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan give the Ravens the ability to put significant pressure on even the best pass blocking teams.

Now on to the secondary. A unit that I saw give up six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger in their first meeting in Pittsburgh has completely turned it around.

I give all the credit to one man, and he will play a huge role in slowing down New England’s passing attack: Rashaan Melvin. Melvin, an undrafted, second-year player started out the year on the Buccaneers, but was cut after week one. The Raven’s then signed him off the Miami Dolphin’s practice squad to be their number two corner across from Lardarius Webb, who is playing the best football of his career.

Ever since signing Melvin in week 15, the Ravens have only given up two passing touchdowns and then only one, compared to six, last week in Pittsburgh.

Melvin embodies everything great about this Ravens team. He is a fighter and overcame what seemed insurmountable adversity.

The Ravens are a team that have signed four practice squad cornerbacks. A team that elected Justin Forsett it’s MVP for the year, a player who would have found himself out of football if not for the Ray Rice debacle. They are a team who led the league in players sent to the IR, and still managed to make the playoffs, the first to ever accomplish that feat.

In conclusion, the Ravens are playing like a team with something to prove, and this roster filled with what are supposed to be washed up veterans, no-name signees and emerging rookies will relish being the road underdog. –AK

Why the Patriots will win…

A scary thing about the three previous Baltimore games for New England is that each time the Patriots had a sterling home record going in, but it didn’t help. In 2009 New England was 8-0 at home; 2011, 7-1; 2012, 6-2. (This year, the Patriots went 7-1.)

Yes, the Patriots’ home-field advantage is nearly negated against Baltimore because of their sustained success at Gillette, and boding well is that not a lot has changed for the Ravens since 2012 roster-wise.

But there’s one huge difference between that 2012 game and this one: Rob Gronkowski.

The eye-test is enough to tell that the New England offense is a completely different weapon with Gronk than without, just look at Week 17’s Buffalo Bills game. Without him, they’re a slingshot; with him, a high-powered, tricked-out missile that you can fire from 50 miles away and hit a penny lying on the ground. He’ll be raring to go – “mad eager” in Gronk-speak – to carry the Patriots back to his second Super Bowl.

Whereas Gronk was hurt last time around, it’s Baltimore who’s ailing now. In a Week 16 loss to the Houston Texans, the Ravens lost both their starting tackles, which pushes standout Guard Marshal Yanda to tackle, a structural weak point. This problem was exposed by the Pittsburgh Steelers when Justin Forsett, he of the 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season, managed just 36 yards on 13 carries last week against Pittsburgh.

Even worse for the Ravens? The Patriots allowed just 79 rushing yards per game over the last eight games of the regular season, stuffing the line with three, 325-pound linemen in Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga.

This means the Patriots should be able to shut down the rushing attack and focus on solely the passing game, where New England has the best cover corner in the NFL in Darelle Revis, and Brandon Browner who is elite physically. New England will most likely take away deep-play threat Torrey Smith with Revis and let Browner get physical with Steve Smith, Sr. in what could get feisty. Strategically, Browner could agitate Smith Sr., hoping for him to forget the game and incur a penalty. Either way, the coverage will be too good once Flacco is forced to pass.

Worrisome for the Patriots, however, is the Ravens defense. Their history against Brady is good, all three previous games they hit, hurried or sacked the New England Quarterback early and often. Dean Pees, the Ravens third-year Defensive Coordinator, was the DC for New England from 2006-2009 and certainly knows how to dial up a blitz package that Brady may find, well, not very fun. The Ravens defense is 23rd against the pass with 248.7 yards per game allowed, but their terrific run defense, 4th in the league (88.3 ypg) bolsters it. Plus, the set of ‘Backers the Ravens have in Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and CJ Mosley are an elite core. Granted, they are known more for their pass-rushing prowess, but the Patriots should be wary because all four are competent coverage LBs. If Gronkowski is to be slowed – he can’t be stopped – then this group may be it.

Once again, though, the Patriots find solace, this time in the fact that Baltimore’s corners this season have been mediocre, and that’s being generous. Plus the Patriots are truly rolling with Brandon LaFell. Any hope the Ravens have of succeeding hinges on creating pressure on Brady with the LBs and newly-reinstated Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata. They may hamper New England’s running game, but the Patriots offensive line has been protecting Brady particularly well as of late. The Patriots have second-best passing-blocking Offensive Line are tied for the fourth-fewest sacks allowed in the NFL.

So once the Patriots shut down the running game, they can dial up coverage schemes that will make Flacco force throws once the pressure bears down. That’s what the Houston Texans did in Week 16 when Flacco tossed three picks. Then the Patriots will exploit a bad Baltimore secondary, picking it apart with dink-and-dunks to receivers on the outside and occasionally stretching the field with Gronkowski and some jamming runs up the middle with a Running Back you probably haven’t heard of yet that’s still on the practice squad.

The multitude of options on offense create long, grinding drives that allow a then-rested defense to dominate a depleted offensive unit for the Ravens, ensuring New England’s sound victory over the Ravens that won’t come down to its kicker. –SF

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and using the word “wicked” as an adjective. He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Alex Keller is also a freshman at Syracuse University and a welcome contributor to this site whenever he likes. You can follow him on Twitter @AGKe11er.

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