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Underdog Ravens Must Focus On Four Key Points Sunday

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2010

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 13:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates a touchdown against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium on December 13, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Lions 48-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

Amongst the other three anticipated matchups of the weekend, one that isn't getting a load of exposure is the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens

Maybe it's due to these two teams being fairly familiar with one another, or the fact that the Ravens are basically being written off as people feel they don't stand a chance against Tom Brady and his Patriots.

For a number of reasons, though, there is a case to be made for the Ravens in this wild-card game. Sure they are clear underdogs against an equipped Patriots team that has been well-balanced all season, but Baltimore has all the weapons needed to contain the Patriots at Foxboro.

1. Defense

When you think of Baltimore, you think of defense. If you have the opportunity to catch the pre-game warm ups, pay close attention to the Ravens huddle. Linebacker Ray Lewis will be more fired up than ever, and he has reason to be for this game.

Ranked third in total defense on the season, and fifth in stopping the run, the Ravens will throw everything including the kitchen sink at Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Laurence Maroney.

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In the past, the Ravens defense has rattled Brady. Besides Lewis, expect a few corner blitzes early from cornerbacks Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth. The two have combined for six interceptions on the year, and if one of these guys gets a hand on the Patriots quarterback, be prepared to see a half throw and a loose ball on the ground.

Ed Reed is also a talking point in this one. Last season, he kept the Ravens alive in the postseason, and is the backbone of the Ravens defense. Although he's been injured for parts of the season and has barely padded his stats, Bill Belichick will be well aware of his presence.

2. Get Ray Rice Going Early

Another positive that the Ravens have is the ability to mix and match running backs between Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Few teams in the league have the freedom, and the Ravens need to take advantage of it.

The underrated running back out of Rutgers, Rice has made a name for himself in his second season in the NFL. Seven touchdowns and 1,339 yards on the year speaks for itself.

Burst after the tackle is one of Rice's strengths. If the Ravens get a quick turnover from the Patriots deep in their own territory, handing the ball to Rice to pound some yards would be the best option.

3. Less Time Joe Flacco Has the Ball, the Better

Like I said, giving the ball to Ray Rice is the better option. Although Flacco is still developing and really finding his arm in the NFL, he still isn't the type of guy that you want to rely on too much in a playoff game of this importance.

After starting the season off poorly, things gradually got better. Twelve interceptions for twenty one touchdowns on the season aren't bad numbers on the season for a second year starter, but with a defense like New England's to face (especially with Vince Wilfork right across from centre), having Flacco bide time with the ball in the pocket isn't an option for Baltimore.

4. Penalties

For those of you who watched the Monday Night Football game five weeks ago against Green Bay, you're pretty much used to the color yellow by now.

The Ravens aren't the most penalised team in the league, but they suffer enormous yardage loss on pass interference calls.

Offensively and defensively, they simply cannot afford to making mistakes that cost them yards. A team like New England is dangerous, whether you give them a one-yard advantage or a 15-yard advantage. 

Ravens wide receivers need to avoid the pushing and shoving game on the offensive side of the ball. Physicality is a must to win, but the Ravens are only doing themselves harm when they get too hands on when covering deep routes.

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