Ravens vs. Patriots: Why Joe Flacco Can Out-Gun Tom Brady
That's the Tom Brady—playoff hero, Ugg's spokesman, envy of the modern man.
So does average Joe Pick-Six stand a chance?
Heck yeah he does.
History, data and the slimming effects of the color purple suggest that Joe Flacco has the stuff to slay Goliath this Sunday.
He's Done It Before
When last these teams met in the NFL playoffs, Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a stunning 33-14 win at Foxboro.
OK, so maybe "led" is a bit misleading. After all, Flacco was just 4-of-10 for 34 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
But he can at least draw some confidence from the fact the he's one of just two quarterbacks to beat Tom Brady at Foxboro in the playoffs (and the first to accomplish said feat).
Few signal callers enter a game against the Patriots with that notch on their belt and Flacco has to feel good knowing that many of the same teammates that helped him to that historic beatdown will be alongside him during Sunday's affair.
But more on that later...
Have You Seen the Patriots' Defense?
I know you're impressed that the Patriots defense smothered the great Tim Tebow last Saturday. But one good game against a playoff noob doesn't erase New England's pitiful track record against the pass this season.
The Patriots finished 31st in pass defense this year, allowing opponents an average of 294 yards per game through the air.
Even more scathing was New England's record against bad quarterbacks.
In 2011 Joe Flacco finished 18th among all qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating. Sixteen quarterbacks finished with a worse passer rating and those quarterbacks played a combined six games against the New England Patriots.
In those six games, these below-average quarterbacks finished with the following composite line against the Patriots: 122-of-205, 1,594 yards 9 TD, 9 INT
For those unfamiliar with the division function, that yields per-game averages of 59.5 completion percentage, 266 yards, 1.5 TD and 1.5 INT.
That's the average output for quarterbacks, who were ostensibly worse than Joe Flacco in 2011.
If they can do it, Flacco can, too.
New England's Playoff History
You don't need a great quarterback to beat the New England Patriots in the playoffs.
The common thread tying those three together were the defenses behind them. Each had a defense rated in the league's top seven the year they beat Tom Brady.
For their part, the Patriots haven't won a playoff game against a team with a top-10 defense since nipping the Chargers in 2006.
It should surprise no one that the Ravens finished once again among the league's top 10 in overall defense—they finished third—and have the kind of stout unit that has given New England trouble over the past five years.
The Ravens' Defense Versus Tom Brady
There are two versions of Tom Brady: the dominant, record-smashing Tom Brady and the Tom Brady that plays against the Baltimore Ravens.
They are two very different people.
The Ravens have defended Brady better than almost any team in the league since he began tormenting defenses in 2001.
In those years, the Ravens and Patriots have met five times. While the Patriots are 4-1, they've never scored more than 27 points and won three of those contests by less than touchdown.
Brady has averaged 247 passing yards in those contests, never passing for 300 yards or more against the Baltimore defense. Even more incredible, Tom Terrific has thrown the same number of interceptions (six) in those games as touchdowns.
And although it would be pointless to dig up old history for most teams, the Ravens have had such incredible defensive continuity over the years that many of the same players that limited Brady in 2010, 2009 and 2007 will be on the field come Sunday.
With that as the wind in his sails, Joe Flacco will have ample opportunity to settle into the game and pick his chances to strike.
Against most defenses, Brady scores at such a relentless pace that opposing offenses feel pressure to score on every possession, taking out-of-character risks.
That hasn't been the case against this Ravens defense and their presence gives Flacco a chance to manage this game at his speed.
Joe Flacco's Success against Bad Defenses
The schedule did Joe Flacco no favors this year.
Ten of the Ravens' 16 games were against teams rated in the top 10 against the pass and Baltimore didn't face a single opponent that finished below 17th in that category.
Against the weaker end of that gauntlet, Flacco performed quite well. In the six games against defenses rated 11th through 17th against the pass, Flacco completed 60.9 percent of his passes and averaged 234 yards.
Those aren't world-beating numbers, but they demonstrate a marked improvement over Flacco's averages in the other 10 games.
Flacco will face the worst passing defense that he's seen all year on Sunday, and it isn't even close.
All that considered, I like his chances to eclipse 250 yards and complete 65 percent of his throws against a weak Patriots secondary.