Ravens vs. Patriots: Matchups Baltimore Must Win to Pull Upset

Brian MaziqueCorrespondent IIIJanuary 16, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots chases Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens in the first half at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriot won 23-20 in overtime.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

As inspirational as Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens' playoff run is, the New England Patriots are playing the best football in the NFL right now.

They were my pick to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC when the season began and when the playoffs got underway. I'm not abandoning that prediction now.

That said, this is football and anything can happen,

The Ravens beat the Patriots 31-30 in an early regular-season matchup, so it wouldn't be the biggest upset in NFL history if they won again. If the Ravens are going to emerge victorious, there are three key matchups they need to win.


Ravens' Offensive Line vs. Vince Wilfork and Patriots' Run Defense

The Patriots' secondary is the weakest part of their defense, but they are aided by linebackers that can commit to pass coverage.

That happens because of the way Vince Wilfork and the Pats' defensive line stuffs inside runs. Without Wilfork, the Patriots' defense would be much less effective. They were ninth against the run during the regular season because Wilfork plugs inside gaps as well as any DT in the NFL.

New England hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Ray Rice ran for 101 against them in Week 3. The team has only allowed over 120 yards on the ground to a team three times. The Pats are 1-2 in those games.

If the Ravens are going to win, they must open running lanes for Rice and Bernard Pierce.

The Houston Texans found some success with Arian Foster on stretch run plays on Sunday, but those runs don't open up play action as well as the fake halfback dives.

Play action is one of the keys to the Ravens' offense, but if they can't run the ball successfully, it won't work.


Ravens' Defensive Line vs. Patriots' Run Offense

Obviously, I believe stopping the run is important on both sides.

New England has had great run-pass balance this season. They are the fourth-best passing offense, but their seventh-rated rushing attack is a great complement to Tom Brady.

If the Ravens allow Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to go off, they can't stop the Pats' attack.

Against the Texans on Sunday, Vereen and Ridley combined for 123 yards and two touchdowns on just 22 carries. It this output is repeated, the game could become a blowout.

Haloti Ngata and others must make a statement early.

If Brady is set up with 3rd-and-short situations throughout the game, the Ravens' defense will have a tough time getting off the field. For an aging group, that will almost certainly have them sucking wind in the second half.

From there, they will be easy pickings.


Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs vs. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer

Baltimore needs to get pressure on Brady from the edges. Blitzing is part of their defensive scheme, but if Kruger and Suggs can get to the quarterback, it will obviously allow linebackers and cornerbacks to stay in coverage.

This is much easier said than done.

The Pats' O-line is the best unit in the NFL. In addition to the 2,184 rushing yards they paved the way for, New England's big uglies only allowed 27 sacks on the season.

That is tied for the fifth-fewest sacks allowed in the league. No other O-line can boast such an impressive combination of rushing yards and limited sacks.

The Ravens got to Brady twice in their regular-season matchup, but that seems like years ago. They have to prove they can do it now that everything is on the line.

Vollmer and Solder both stand 6'8" and weigh over 300 pounds. They are huge impediments to get around, and their ability to pass-protect is one of the most unsung aspects of this offense. 

If the Ravens hope to come out on top, their pass-rushers must play big.


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