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Ravens-Patriots matchups

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / January 20, 2012
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Quarterbacks

PATRIOTS: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett.
RAVENS: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor.
As personal statistics go, no opponent has given Brady more trouble than the Ravens. Including the playoff game after the 2009 season, in five starts against Baltimore, Brady has completed 55.9 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, six interceptions, 6.09 yards per attempt, and a rating of 71.4. But in the most important statistic, Brady is 4-1 against the Ravens, and 15-5 overall in the playoffs. Flacco is 5-3 in the playoffs, completing 53.1 percent of his passes, with 5.81 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a rating of 66.2. In the 2010 matchup with the Patriots, Flacco completed 77.1 percent of his passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns with a rating of 119.3.
Edge: Patriots.

Running backs

PATRIOTS: Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Lousaka Polite, Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen.
RAVENS: Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, Ricky Williams, Anthony Allen.

Ridley's second fumble in as many games (one lost) has put his role into question. The Patriots place a high value on ball security, and in Green-Ellis they have a back who has never fumbled. Woodhead played a big role in the 2010 meeting with 63 yards on 11 carries and 52 yards on five catches. He also was exceptional at blitz pickup. Rice is one of the game's best, both rushing and receiving -- he led the Ravens at both -- as he posted an NFL-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage, was second with 1,364 rushing yards, and tied for third with 12 rushing touchdowns. He has averaged 116.7 yards in three games against the Patriots, though 83 came on the first play of the playoff game. Leach is the best fullback in the game and new to this rivalry. Williams, the longtime Dolphin, will get his touches relieving Rice.
Edge: Ravens.

Receivers

PATRIOTS: Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Tiquan Underwood, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater.
RAVENS: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Lee Evans, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Kris Williams.

The Patriots are coming off their finest performance of the season, when four players had at least 55 receiving yards -- Gronkowski (145), Branch (85), Welker (55), and Hernandez (55), who added a team-high 61 rushing yards. The tight end tandem of Gronkowski and Hernandez is now driving the Patriots' passing attack. Gronkowski was also terrific at run blocking against the Broncos. Don't be surprised if tackle Nate Solder is targeted near the goal line as the third tight end. The Ravens have gotten younger and more athletic since the 2010 matchup with speedsters Smith (rookie) and Evans able to stretch the field, with Dickson and Pitta dangerous underneath as tight ends. Neither blocks very well, and no one outside of the reliable Boldin has played in a game this big.
Edge:Patriots.

Offensive line

PATRIOTS: Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Donald Thomas, Nick McDonald.
RAVENS: Bryant McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher, Andre Gurode, Jah Reid, Justin Boren.

The Patriots' offensive line is also coming off its best performance of the season, with just five quarterback pressures allowed (three knockdowns) against the Broncos. The run blocking was good but not spectacular. In 2010, the Patriots had a lot of trouble with tackle Haloti Ngata, who victimized center Dan Koppen. Mankins continues to progress from his knee injury. He can have issues in pass protection against stunts. The Ravens are coming off a rough showing against the Texans' dynamic front seven. Yanda is going to the Pro Bowl at right guard but is beat up. He allowed 1 1/2 sacks, a hurry, and a knockdown against the Texans. Oher (two sacks, two hurries, two stuffed runs), the right tackle, had it taken to him against the Texans. They did have to face 19 blitzes. McKinnie, while susceptible to speed, has been solid along with Birk. Grubbs is solid, but Vince Wilfork handled him in 2010.
Edge:Patriots

Defensive line

PATRIOTS: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Shaun Ellis, Ron Brace, Gerard Warren.
RAVENS: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Corey Redding, Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger, Brandon McKinney, Arthur Jones.

The Patriots dominated the Broncos up front to set the tone. The 14 stuffed runs (those of 1 yard or fewer outside of short yardage) were a season high. That running game was perfect practice for dealing with Ray Rice and the Ravens. Wilfork and Love are doing great work shedding blockers at the point of attack. Deaderick has steadily improved. Ngata, one of the league's best, was a beast in the 2010 matchup with two sacks and another quarterback hit. The rest of the group is much improved, with Cody and Redding tough against the run, and McPhee (seven sacks) and Kruger (six) productive as rushers in sub packages.
Edge: Even.

Linebackers

PATRIOTS: Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Mark Anderson, Dane Fletcher, Tracy White, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides.
RAVENS: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jameel McClain, Jarret Johnson, Dannell Ellerbe, Josh Bynes, Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Edgar Jones, Sergio Kindle.

Mayo, Spikes, and Ninkovich had their best collective performance of the season against the Broncos with three sacks, three hurries, a knockdown, and 4 1/2 stuffed runs. Mayo (18 tackles) and Spikes (14 tackles) were outstanding in the 2010 meeting when Ray Rice was limited to 3.7 yards per attempt. Anderson played a season-high 71 snaps against the Broncos. He continues to be solid against the run and better against the pass. Ninkovich has twice this season benefited from having his snaps cut. He played just 24 against the Bills, and then had the bye week before the Broncos game. Fletcher was used to spy Rice in passing situations late in the 2010 game. Lewis is 36 and doesn't have the legs he once did, but he's not the big liability in coverage some think. He reads and anticipates better than anyone at the position. Suggs could be the Defensive Player of the Year after posting 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles. He's highly underrated against the run. Johnson is solid as the strong-side linebacker. McClain is average at the other inside spot. Don't be surprised if the Ravens pull him for another defensive back.
Edge: Ravens.

Secondary

PATRIOTS: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung, James Ihedigbo, Antwaun Molden, Nate Jones, Sergio Brown, Sterling Moore, Malcolm Williams, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater.
RAVENS: Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith, Chris Carr, Chykie Brown, Tom Zbikowski, Danny Gorrer, Emanuel Cook, Haruki Nakamura.

The Patriots' much-maligned group certainly didn't have any trouble against the Broncos. Amazing how quarterback pressure makes the coverage better. They'll be tested more by the Ravens' vertical passing game. McCourty continues to get more time at free safety in passing situations, and expect that to continue. Arrington has been solid at corner all season, and Moore has come on of late. Chung will likely get star slot position duties against the physical Anquan Boldin. The Ravens' secondary has changed greatly from the 2010 matchup -- for the better. Webb (five interceptions) is an emerging star at corner, and was among the league leaders with 11 passes defended. Williams is not as good at the other corner and can be thrown on. Smith, physically imposing at 6 feet 2 inches, 210 pounds, has emerged down the stretch as the nickel, but is prone to rookie mistakes. Reed, who didn't play in the 2010 meeting, is still at a Hall of Fame level and will key the coverages. Pollard (6-1, 224) has replaced Dawan Landry as an enforcer.
Edge: Ravens.

Special teams

PATRIOTS: K Stephen Gostkowski, P Zoltan Mesko, LS Danny Aiken, KR Danny Woodhead, PR Julian Edelman.
RAVENS: K Billy Cundiff, P Sam Koch, LS Morgan Cox, KR Tom Zbikowski, PR Lardarius Webb.

Gostkowski (39.8 percent) doesn't have a high percentage of touchbacks, but the Patriots are fine with his hang time as it allows their excellent coverage team to tilt field position. Mesko set a franchise record with a 46.5-yard average, and has been great late in the season. He had two punts inside the 20 in the 2010 meeting with a 47.2 net and one 65-yarder. Koch is just as good and had five punts inside the 20 in that ’10 game. Webb and Edelman are equally dangerous on punt returns. Neither Woodhead nor Zbikowski scares on kickoff returns. The Patriots' coverage units have the edge.
Edge: Patriots.

Coaches

PATRIOTS: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien (offense), Matt Patricia (defense).
RAVENS: John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron (offense), Chuck Pagano (defense).

Belichick seemed much more relaxed this week after returning his team to its rightful place among the AFC’s postseason elite. O'Brien has mixed his game plans well, but this is a style of defense that the Patriots have struggled against historically. Patricia has done well making adjustments and patching this defense together. Cameron's offense is basic, but he gets a high level of execution. He'll need to get Joe Flacco to play his best. Pagano served under Rex Ryan in Baltimore and runs the same scheme. The Ravens’ 48 sacks, up from 27 under Greg Mattison, were tied for third in the NFL.
Edge: Patriots

Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots LT Matt Light

Suggs is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he had 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. And he might do his best work against the run. "He does a terrific job in all phases of the game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's a strong run player, probably doesn’t get enough credit for that, he causes a lot of negative plays in the running game." Light has been outstanding this season. He's only allowed four sacks and has been his best against the best. Light has held such top pass rushers as Tamba Hali (Chiefs), Trent Cole (Eagles), Dwight Freeney (Colts), Brian Orakpo (Redskins), and Elvis Dumervil (Broncos) without a sack.

SCOUT'S TAKE: "This is the key matchup because if the Patriots are able to run their no-huddle effectively, then the Ravens won’t be able to scheme pressure. That would leave Suggs to do it all himself because I'm sure the Patriots will double [Haloti] Ngata after what he did to them last year [two sacks]. Light has surprised me. He’s done a real nice job."

Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez vs. Ravens CB Jimmy Smith

Hernandez (6 feet 1 inch, 245 pounds, 4.64 in the 40-yard dash) has averaged 15.2 yards per reception in the last five games with three touchdowns, as he and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski have become the focal point of the Patriots’ passing attack. The Patriots like to get Hernandez in the open field against man-coverage teams, and the Ravens will likely take that approach. Hernandez had four catches for 61 yards against the Ravens in his fifth career NFL game in 2010. Smith, a rookie, is a close physical match (6-2, 210, 4.42). After not playing much early, he has been getting more playing time the last third of the season. He's a great athlete but prone to coverage mistakes.

SCOUT’S TAKE: "You certainly can't sit back in zone against [Tom] Brady very often, so the Ravens are going to look to match up like the Jets have. It's the same scheme. Those tight ends are rolling right now. I wouldn’t let Hernandez breathe. The Patriots know this, so you’ll see Hernandez come out of the backfield. That's a different problem. But at some point he’ll split out, and Smith is the guy I would pick."

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