If History is any Indication, Ravens Should Be A Tough Challenge for Patriots

Ian Logue
January 19, 2012 at 01:57pm ET

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Taking a look back at the Patriots previous playoff game against the Ravens back in 2009, it's tough to say if Baltimore beat them or if they simply beat themselves.

Most fans remember the first play of that game, which basically set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.  Ravens runningback Ray Rice started them off with an 83-yard touchdown run that was perfectly executed by nearly every member of the offense.  Looking at the film everyone made their block on that first play, and that allowed Rice to head off to the races to put them up 7-0.

That was the story of the afternoon, with Rice finishing with 159 yards on 22 carries as the Ravens ran all over New England in a 33-14 Wild Card playoff win.

The Patriots defense did a better job against him when they met last year during the regular season, with Rice finishing with 88 yards on 28 carries. However Vince Wilfork admitted on Wednesday that Rice isn't exactly the easiest guy to tackle.

"He's tough to bring down," Vince Wilfork said of Rice on Wednesday.  "I mean, his lower body is probably like my lower body, with big thighs and he's very strong. Hard runner, low center of gravity, can catch well and can block. When you can put those three things in a running back, you've got a complete running back and he's been doing it ever since he's been in the league."

"I think the Ravens do a good job of using him. That's first on our list, we have to slow him down if we want to be successful as a defense."

Field position was also a big problem during their previous playoff meeting.  Four of Baltimore's first five possessions started in Patriots territory, three of which happened from no more than 25 yards out thanks to some key turnovers by New England. The Ravens took advantage, and each of those three lead to points.

Wes Welker was an honorary captain in the Patriots previous playoff game against the Ravens having suffered a knee injury the week before. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

To make matters worse, Tom Brady definitely wasn't his usual self that afternoon, although they were grossly undermanned in the passing game.  Having lost Wes Welker the week prior against the Texans to a knee injury, they started Randy Moss, Sam Aiken, and Julian Edelman at the receiver position, and back then had Chris Baker and Ben Watson for tight ends.

That made it pretty easy for the Ravens defense to shut down New England's passing game.  They held Brady to just 154 yards passing on the afternoon, and kept the Patriots from having any luck moving the chains.

On third down Brady finished 3-of-9 throwing the football, and New England coverted just 3-of-12 total .  Brady overall finished 23-of-42 for 154 yards, 2 TD's and 3 INT's.

Baltimore's defense did a good job of taking Moss and Edelman out of the game, and Brady really had a tough time trying to find anyone else.  Watson and Baker were completely ineffective and couldn't get open (Brady was 2-of-6 total on attempts to them), while Aiken also struggled (Brady was 1-of-5 targeting him).

That basically left Moss, Edelman, and Faulk carrying the load in the passing game, and they also relied on Faulk running the football.  The veteran was in on more than a third of their offensive plays excluding punts, penalties, and field goal attempts (22 of 64 plays), carrying the ball 14 times and was targeted 8 times with 6 receptions.

In 2010 they beat the Ravens in overtime and despite having more weapons in the passing game Brady still finished with a nearly identical stat line, albeit with more passing yards.  Brady finished 27-of-44 for 292 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions.

That leaves him having thrown just 3 touchdowns compared to five interceptions in their last two meetings.  Brady talked on Wednesday about what it's been like going up against Baltimore's defense, and with the likes of guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, he knows he'll have his work cut out for them.

"You always enjoy going up against the best because you can really measure where you're at," said Brady. "You can't take plays off against those guys. You can't take things for granted when you're out there against them. You have to see where they're at on every play because they're guys who change the game."

Reed is a guy that both Bill Belichick and Brady have admitted they have a lot of respect for. The veteran picked him off during the first quarter in their previous playoff match-up, which lead to a field goal as the Ravens built a 24-0 hole the Patriots couldn't dig themselves out of. Brady admitted that when he comes out of the huddle that Reed's a guy they have to immediately account for.

"You don't fool Ed too often," said Brady.  "Every once in a while you see him out of place but it's very, very rare. When you break the huddle, you find where he's at and you make sure you're not lobbing the ball up in his zones, because as you saw in the Houston game, he's going to go up there and make the plays. He's just an exceptional player. I don't think there is a weakness that he has."

Hopefully Brady and the offense is able to find at least one this weekend. There's obviously a lot at stake as the team looks to try and capture an AFC Championship and advance to Indianapolis, and if history is any indication it will likely turn out to be another tough match-up.

Fans are clearly excited about this game, and Brady admitted that he'll be glad when it's finally time for kickoff.

"The game can't get here fast enough," said Brady.  "There's a lot of anxiousness leading up to the game. You think about the game; it's the only thing really on your mind.

"Hopefully we can go out there and do a great job. I'm really looking forward to it."