FOXBOROUGH - They were who we thought they were.
One way or the other, that?s what we?ll all be saying about 7 tonight after the Ravens and Patriots determine which team will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Either Tom Brady and his fast-moving, twin-tight end powered offense will prove too much for a Ravens defense in its last throes of greatness with linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. And Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco won?t be consistent enough to keep up.
Or the best defense in the matchup holds Brady down long enough, as it has done at times, and the Patriots? defense shows the fatal cracks that we all saw at times against every non-left-handed quarterback it faced this season in a Patriots loss.
It?s really either or at this point.
Aside from a few new wrinkles sprinkled in ? we?re looking at you, Nate Solder, to catch a possible Patriots victory celebration touchdown ? there won?t be many surprises.
After 17 games, just about every scheme and playcall has been captured on film and dissected.
It?s going to come down to which teams executes the best, and wins the turnover battle.
It?s basically that simple.
The keys to the Patriots winning this game are these:
- Protect Brady: If the Patriots? quarterback doesn?t feel hurried, he?s going to win. Period. The Ravens are going to do everything in their power to speed Brady up with straight blitzes, son blitzes, and players winning one-on-one battles up front. , The Ravens will try to put doubt in his Brady?s mind with disguises and different coverages. It?s the same scheme as the Jets. Expect the Patriots to chip OLB Terrell Suggs a lot. I would also expect the Patriots to double DT Haloti Ngata at times. One pressure to look for: if I?m the Ravens, I have Ngata cross the face of LG Logan Mankins toward the center and then run a blitzer in that vacated gap. Mankins, for whatever reason, has trouble with stunts. Running a stunt at Brian Waters is a waste. He is terrific at having his head on a swivel.
- Don?t give up the big play: If I?m Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, I?m taking a deep shot early off of playaction on the first offensive snap to WR Torrey Smith. The Patriots will be keying on Ray Rice. Use that to your advantage. But overall for the game, the Ravens are a vertical passing game. It?s pretty old school, out of the Don Coryell model. This is a game for Devin McCourty at safety. I think he could excel and pick off a pass over the top. It will be very important that he doesn?t have false steps on playaction and get beat over the top. I think he?ll be fine.
- Treat Rice like Marshall Faulk: We all know what the plan was in the 2001 Super Bowl against the Rams ? hit RB Faulk on every snap. Same thing with Rice. They?ll be chipping him on the edge, and in passing situations, the Patriots will have a spy.
- Run the ball: The Patriots are going to win this game through the air, and the Ravens are going to take a page out of the Jets? playbook and play a ton of nickel and dime. The Patriots have to run against those fronts if the Ravens are giving it to them. Running also allows you to run the hurry-up. Danny Woodhead was terrific against the Ravens last year ? running, catching and pass protection. I would use Woodhead a lot to take the wind out of the Ravens? older and bigger players.
- Protect the ball and execute: The team that wins the turnover battle will win this game. Period. And execution is simple, but that is another huge factor. Execute your blocks. Catch the ball. Tackle.
I think this will be close for a while. Brady always takes a while to get going against this type of scheme. But he?ll get it at some point ? which is why if the Ravens were smart, they?d have one defensive scheme for the first half, another for the second ? and will be tough to stop. This game will come down to who has a better touchdown percentage in the red zone. Patriots have been terrific at that most of the season, so has the Ravens? defense. For Baltimore to have a chance, Joe Flacco has to be around 70 or 80 percent for TDs in the redzone. I don?t think that will happen. Plus, the Patriots have Myra Kraft looking down on them.
Patriots 27, Ravens 20