Ravens vs. Patriots: 3 Keys to a New England Victory in AFC Championship Game

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Ravens vs. Patriots: 3 Keys to a New England Victory in AFC Championship Game
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If the New England Patriots are able to overcome the Baltimore Ravens defense, no one will question whether they earned a trip to the Super Bowl.

But the "unstoppable force meets immovable object" storyline of this game is just one of the many things that will play into the final outcome.

Ultimately, it will come down to which team not only has a better game plan, but which team is able to carry out that game plan best on Sunday.

Here are just a few keys for the Patriots if they want to go to their fifth Super Bowl in the past 11 years.

Extra Protection

The Ravens defense is known for its ability to rush the passer. They ranked third in the NFL with 48 sacks on the season. The Patriots will need to buy Tom Brady as much time in the pocket as possible to read the defense.

They've protected him well this season. The Patriots gave up 12 sacks in a four-game stretch against the Jets, Cowboys, Steelers and Giants, but have given up just 16 sacks in the nine games since then.

It could come down to key matchups, such as the offensive tackles against Terrell Suggs. They held up very well against Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil last week, and though some of that was based on the up-tempo Patriots offense (more on that later), the play of the tackles inspired some confidence in their ability to keep Brady clean.

That being said, an easy time in the pocket doesn't necessarily mean an easy evening for Brady. The Ravens had the best defensive passer rating in the NFL at 68.8. To put that in perspective, the NFL average for passer rating was 82.5. But Brady is no average quarterback. In fact, the Ravens only faced six teams with an above-average passer rating this season and didn't face any quarterbacks in the top five.

He has become notorious for his ability diagnose the defense and find his best matchup. Giving Brady enough time in the pocket to make the read could be key to a win, especially if the Ravens are doing a good job of disguising what they do pre-snap.

Dictate the Tempo

Don't get me wrong—I'm not saying that the Patriots must get out to an early lead. But whatever the case may be, the Patriots must send the message that Ray Lewis said the Pats sent to the league following their 45-10 win over Denver last weekend, according to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald on Monday.

"What they did to the Broncos, they sent (a) message to whoever was coming up there," Lewis said." In other words, score touchdowns or lose. The Ravens were 12th in the NFL in scoring, but third in the NFL in field goal attempts.

One great way to achieve this might be to go no-huddle early on as they did against the Broncos, marching down the field for a five-play, 80-yard, 1:51 touchdown drive. The Patriots have run the no-huddle quite frequently this year, but according to Christopher Price of WEEI.com, it could be the Ravens' lack of experience against it that proves key.

The Ravens defense has faced just 56 no-huddle snaps out of their 1,004 total defensive snaps this year and could be caught on its heels and unable to make key substitutions to match up.

Consistent long drives are hard to come by against the Ravens defense, but if the Patriots are able to set the tempo early, they could force the Ravens into a hole where they feel forced to play outside of their game plan to keep up.

Slow down Ray Rice

This one's not a question of why—everyone is in agreement that Ray Rice is the best offensive weapon the Ravens have. This is a question of how and if the Patriots can.

Their defense showed a side of themselves in run defense against the Broncos that we hadn't seen before, at least not recently. They were slicing through gaps, attacking downhill and tackling Denver's running backs for a loss 10 times, while sacking Tim Tebow five more times. But Bill Belichick knows it won't be that easy.

Rice is so shifty and versatile, though, that devoting all their resources to it simply won't do. In fact, what makes Rice so great is his ability to do so many different things well.

"[He's a] very difficult guy to defend," Belichick said Wednesday. “Similar to problems that we’ve had with [C.J.] Spiller, Reggie Bush in Miami, guys like that can run the ball inside, can run the ball outside, can run with power, can take short plays and go for long yardage, can take wheel routes and close routes and routes out of the backfield and out-run the defense and get behind them. He’s a tough guy to matchup on and he does so many things that you try to stop one thing and you’re vulnerable somewhere else. As usual, it just comes down to team defense, everybody doing their job.”

The Ravens have been successful when they are able to get the ball into Rice's hands, but one thing hasn't always led to the other. In fact, the Patriots held Rice to 88 yards on 28 carries, with an eight-yard carry marking his longest of the day.

In that game, Dane Fletcher was on spy duty on Rice and did a great job of containing him on pass patterns, holding him to eight catches for 38 yards.

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter. 

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