AFC Championship Game 2013: What Ravens Must Do to Slow Down Patriots Offense

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws the ball as Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens charges him during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

A lot of factors will decide the AFC Championship Game, but the Baltimore Ravens will not have a chance of winning if they cannot stop the offense of the New England Patriots.

Of course, doing this will be easier said than done. The Patriots averaged 34.8 points per game this season, which was six more points per game than anyone else in the league.

In addition, the team has great balance with Tom Brady leading the No. 4 passing attack in the NFL and Stevan Ridley being the focal point of the No. 7 running offense.

Fortunately, this unit can be stopped if Baltimore follows these keys.


Get to the Quarterback

Against the Houston Texans, the Patriots double- and triple-teamed J.J. Watt and the possible Defensive Player of the Year was only able to finish with one-half of a sack.

This allowed Tom Brady to have plenty of time to throw the ball, and he ended up with 344 passing yards and three touchdowns.

If you look at the team's losses from the regular season, however, Brady's efficiency goes way down when he is under pressure.

When the Ravens beat the Patriots in Week 3, the team had only two sacks but six quarterback hits. The same happened in losses to the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. The NFC West teams combined for 18 quarterback hits.

Even when the defensive players are unable to reach Brady before he gets rid of the ball, taking him down to the turf sends a message for later plays. It also takes him out of a rhythm and forces him to make bad decisions.

Brady's quarterback rating in wins was 107.6, but it was down to 80.4 in losses. This was mainly due to the pressure he felt from the opposing defenses.


Be Physical in the Secondary

One thing the Patriots do not have in their receiving corps is size. With Rob Gronkowski out, the tallest regular target is Aaron Hernandez at 6'1". Otherwise, the ball usually goes to undersized receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd.

As a result, the teams that have been able to slow down this offense are ones with big, physical cornerbacks. These types of players can knock the talented receivers off their routes and it messes up the timing with the quarterback. 

The Seahawks and 49ers were able to do this in victories over New England. Even Derek Cox of the Jacksonville Jaguars was able to use his size to help hold the Patriots to only 23 points.

Both Cary Williams and Corey Graham have good size for cornerbacks, and they should be able to have a physical advantage over the receivers they will cover.

Welker and others should still have a lot of targets, but it will help prevent the talented receiver from getting down the field. 


Key on Stevan Ridley

One thing that has made New England stronger than in past years is its offensive balance.

Thanks to the emergence of Stevan Ridley, the Patriots have climbed from the No. 20 rushing attack in the league last year to No. 7 this season.

Unfortunately, the team is now starting to rely on this run game in order to control the game and set up the pass for later. Only Seattle had more rushing attempts than the Patriots.

This is fine until Ridley starts to struggle. When the second-year player fails to reach 65 rushing yards, the team is only 1-3 on the season. That includes a 37-yard effort in a loss to Baltimore during the regular season. 

New England has other options to run the ball like Danny Woodhead and recently Shane Vereen, but Ridley is the featured player in the backfield. His success is directly tied to the success of the Patriots.

Brady is still the leader on offense, but the team needs the run game to keep opponents on guard. If Baltimore can shut this down at the beginning, it will force the Patriots to become much more one-dimensional.

At that point, it will be much easier to defend the offense and possibly earn a trip to the Super Bowl.