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Joe Flacco's Performance Won't Be the Difference in the AFC Championship

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Joe Flacco's Performance Won't Be the Difference in the AFC Championship
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The popular consensus among analysts and fans is that the Ravens will go as far as quarterback Joe Flacco can take them.

People continue to spread this idea, but at this point, it's simply not right.

The Ravens have been winning games all year, and most of those came from shaky performances from Joe Flacco. The Ravens are a solid 6-3 when Flacco completes less than sixty percent of his passes. Perhaps more telling, the Ravens are 6-2 when Joe Flacco is not the leading quarterback in the game.

To contrast, the Ravens are 2-4 when Ray Rice is held to less than 60 yards rushing. Further, the Ravens are 3-4 when Ray Rice is not the leading rusher in the game.

These totals imply that Ray Rice is more important to the Ravens offense than Joe Flacco, but for a clear example, look at the Ravens last month of regular season play.

In the Ravens' final five games, Joe Flacco crossed 200 yards only twice, but the Ravens still went 4-1. In fact, that one loss was one of Flacco's best passing performances statistically in the last five weeks.

Meanwhile, Ray Rice gained at least 80 yards four times. All four of those games were victories.

The Ravens went into the final month knowing that their running game was more important to success than their passing game.

Simply put, if the Ravens can win the battle at the line of scrimmage, churning out solid rushing yards, they can't lose. When Ray Rice crosses 100 yards, the Ravens are undefeated.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

 

Cam Cameron, John Harbaugh, and even Joe Flacco know this. The Ravens are a team that like to run the ball, and when they do so successfully, they win. 

There are a few reasons for this. First, the Ravens defense is tremendously talented, but even they need a break. When the Ravens throw the ball up and down the field, that speeds up gameplay, and brings the defense back on to the field faster.

Further, a strong running game takes the burden off Joe Flacco. Flacco isn't a bad quarterback, but he is not in that elite group that can carry an offense on his own. Ray Rice keeps Flacco from having to do that.

Finally, with the Ravens' two strong running backs, the Ravens running game has a great deal more energy than the opposing defense has. That means that the Ravens can alternate their two backs, wearing down the defense, until Ray Rice has the opportunity to break a long run.

Worth noting is that the Ravens running stats might be an effect of success, rather than a cause. Yes, the Ravens are undefeated when Ray Rice gets at least 15 carries, but that could simply mean that when the Ravens are up, they run the ball more.

There is certainly a grain of truth in that, but looking at the game film shows that there were more than a few games in which Ray Rice simply willed the team to victory. For evidence, look at the Ravens' Week 13 game against Cleveland and their Week 17 game against Cincinnati.

Simply put, if Ray Rice does not dominate those games, the Ravens have no prayer of winning. The same holds true this week in New England: if Ray Rice does not play well, the Ravens can't win.

The Patriots have a top offense, which has led many to say that the Ravens will need to pass the ball to keep up. That's true to an extent, but what will be more important is extending drives and keeping the Patriots off the field.

If the Ravens can give their defense some rest, then the defense actually can slow down the Patriots' dominant passing game. The Patriots have yet to face a defense as good as the Ravens, so as long as the defense plays well, the Ravens will be in this game, and running the ball should still be the focus of the offense.

The point of all this is to show that what Flacco does this week is not the key of the game. Everyone would love to see Flacco take the next step and prove his critics wrong with a stellar passing performance, but it's not going to happen.

If the Ravens are going to win this game, it will come down to being able to run the ball effectively. Flacco will need to avoid mistakes, but in terms of yards and attempts, Flacco's performance simply won't be the difference between a win and a loss.

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