Ravens vs. Patriots: 4 Keys to a Huge Baltimore Upset in AFC Championship Game

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIJanuary 22, 2012

Ravens vs. Patriots: 4 Keys to a Huge Baltimore Upset in AFC Championship Game

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    As we near the grand finale of the 2012 NFL playoffs, let's turn our attention to the AFC Championship Game and highlight keys to the Baltimore Ravens upsetting the New England Patriots.

    The Ravens had a great regular season overall, but most of their losses were on the road to inferior teams. The Patriots, meanwhile, played surprisingly bad on the defensive side of the ball for much of the season, but they seem to be peaking at just the right time, smothering the Broncos in the divisional round.

    Can the Ravens pull off a win on the road? Here's how they can.

Get Relentless Pressure on Tom Brady

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    The prolific New England offense has been nearly unstoppable lately, their most recent performance being a 45-point beatdown of the Denver Broncos (who answered with just 10 measly points) led by Tom Brady's 363 yards and six touchdowns through the air.

    The Ravens defense will be a whole different animal for the Patriots to face, but at the same time, if Baltimore can't get to the quarterback, they won't have much of a chance.

    The Ravens held the Houston Texans to 13 points and picked off TJ Yates three times (which in reality should have been six times). However, Yates didn't have all that bad of a game outside of those particular throws, and much of the reason for that was because the Ravens didn't record a single sack the whole game.

    Stud pass-rusher Terrell Suggs was very quiet on that front, and there was nobody else who stepped up to break through Houston's outstanding offensive line.

    As we all know, TJ Yates is no Tom Brady, so that will have to change in a hurry. There seems to be no way to stop Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker outside of getting to Tom Brady play after play.

Give the Patriots a Heavy Dose of Ray Rice

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    Baltimore's offense has been fairly average all season, but when they've done well, it's been because star running back Ray Rice has gotten 25 to 30 touches per game.

    Rice is an elite all-around running back with the speed to break outside, the power to run between the tackles and the hands to catch passes out of the backfield.

    Now, let's go back to New England's divisional round game with the Broncos. Despite getting blown out, Denver actually had a lot of success running the ball with Willis McGahee, who had 76 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

    Rice has the same capability, and if he gets going early, the Ravens have a good chance to put plenty of points on the board.

    Against the Texans, Rice had a poor game statistically, and the Ravens struggled to score as a result. However, New England's defense isn't Houston's defense, so Rice has better prospects going into this matchup.

Protect Joe Flacco

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    As is the case with most every quarterback in the NFL, and as we saw against the Texans, Joe Flacco does not perform nearly as well under pressure. He didn't have a bad game by any means, but the Texans' relentless pass rush definitely got the better of Baltimore's offense.

    As I said before, New England's defense is not on the same level as Houston's, but we saw glimpses of dominance last week against the Denver Broncos as Rob Ninkovich and Vince Wilfork completely abused Denver's offensive line. Consequently, Tim Tebow never had a chance.

    Joe Flacco is a capable quarterback who has some solid weapons in Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. If he gets time, he should be able to find those guys downfield. But if he doesn't, the Ravens will be one-dimensional on offense.

    Baltimore's offensive line will obviously have to protect Flacco much better than the Broncos' O-line did Tebow. Otherwise, this could be another route in Foxborough.

Capitalize on Mistakes

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    Despite how horrible the Broncos loss to the Patriots was, the one thing they did well was capitalize on Tom Brady's single significant mistake.

    On one play in the second quarter, Brady simply overthrew Wes Welker and the ball sailed directly into the arms of safety Quinton Carter. The Broncos used the short field to put seven points on the board, cutting the deficit to seven. The slaughter that ensued clearly made that irrelevant, but at least the Broncos gave themselves a chance at that point.

    When you look at the final stats, Baltimore's plus-four turnover margin looks pretty solid. But that translated into just a one-touchdown win, which ended up coming down to the wire. Beyond that, they dropped three potential interceptions throughout the game. That just won't fly against the Pats.

    You can bet any mistakes made by this New England offense will be much more relevant in the outcome of this game, but if the Ravens don't capitalize on any mistakes the Patriots make, they likely won't be able to pull out a win.