All right, a little over day until the big game. Let’s get the inside information on the Ravens from Aaron Wilson, beat writer for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital. He also covers the NFL for FOX Sports/Scout.com:
1. OK, let’s cut to it: do you have any faith that Joe Flacco can play the kind of game needed to beat the Patriots and why or why not?
Wilson: Actually, I’ve witnessed some growth from Joe Flacco this season as a quarterback overall even though his statistics don’t always reflect that general improvement. He’s making better decisions. He’s being granted more freedom to audible. Despite his 5-3 record in the playoffs, though, Flacco has passed for fewer than 200 passing yards in seven of those eight playoff games with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. I think he’s capable of managing the game if the score is close and avoiding turnovers. And he’s also able to rally the Ravens a bit, as he did against the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Can he win a true shootout with Tom Brady where he would need to throw four or five touchdowns to win the game? Probably not. And that’s specifically what the Ravens are hoping to avoid on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
2. Who is the one Ravens player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
Wilson: Lardarius Webb is the Ravens’ top starting cornerback and intercepted five passes during the regular season and two last week to tie a franchise postseason record. Webb will shift inside in nickel situations and line up across from Wes Welker in the slot. Webb is a good athlete who tackles well in the open field. He should be able to hold up well in that matchup.
3. What would you say is the one thing about the Ravens offense that teams have trouble with?
Wilson: Hands down, it’s Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice. Rice is a dynamic, all-purpose threat who gained 2,068 yards from scrimmage to lead the league. About the only one who ever stopped him consistently was offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who tends to abandon the run very quickly whenever Baltimore falls behind. That was a common thread in the Ravens’ four losses, all on the road.
4. Where do you think the Patriots will try to exploit the Ravens’ offense?
Wilson: The right side of tackle Michael Oher and guard Marshal Yanda are coming off their worst games of the season, respectively. Houston Texans rookie defensive end J.J. Watt and rookie outside linebacker Brooks Reed had a lot of success running stunts against Oher and Yanda during an AFC divisional playoff game last Sunday in Baltimore. They combined for 20 tackles and five sacks.
5. What would you say is the one thing about the Ravens defense that teams have trouble with?
Wilson: Terrell Suggs has thrived against weaker tackles, recording three sacks apiece against Colts rookie Anthony Castonzo, Steelers lineman Jonathan Scott and 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis.
6. Where do you think the Patriots will try to exploit the Ravens’ defense?
Wilson: They’ll want to attack safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Specifically, they’ll try to get Reed in situations where he has to tackle. Reed has a painful nerve impingement in his neck that has plagued him for years and a bad shoulder. As for Pollard, he’s a classic enforcer type who does his best work in the box. He can be exposed in pass coverage, especially by athletic tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
7. Finally, the perfect script for a Ravens win on Sunday is…
Wilson: No turnovers, holding Tom Brady to three touchdowns or less, having Ray Rice rush for 100 yards and two scores, not allowing a kick return for a touchdown as they have three times previously this season and getting a clean, efficient game from Joe Flacco to the tune of a couple touchdown passes and no interceptions could equal a win. Of course, that would require a perfect performance. And that’s unlikely to unfold against a formidable team like the Patriots coached by Bill Belichick. My prediction for this game: New England 24, Baltimore 20.
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