Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterbackJoe Flacco
(5) throws the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackerJames Harrison
(92) defends in the second quarter during the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The thought of the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens meeting in the playoffs automatically conjures thoughts of past battles with Rex Ryan patrolling the sidelines as a defensive assistant and defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2008 and putting his imprint on the ferocious defense; the Wild Card match-up in January 2010 when the Ravens put up 24 points in the first quarter before most New England fans had made their way from the tailgate to their seats and the Patriots being blown out by a team that completed just four passes for 34 yards for the entire game; and the back-to-back AFC Championship Games after the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Then, last season the Patriots knocked the Ravens out of the playoff picture in week sixteen with a 41-7 win.
Aug 7, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running backRay Rice
(27) smiles during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
This Baltimore Ravens team is different from those past squads as the defense is weaker in the secondary and still dependent upon creating pressure with the front seven. On offense, the Ravens will run to set-up the pass, but have struggled to score enough against good defenses. The Ravens feasted on a schedule that had them playing Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Cleveland twice. The only team with a winning record the Ravens have defeated all season long has been division rival Pittsburgh. Baltimore has lost to Cincinnati (twice), Indianapolis, Pittsburgh (once), San Diego, and Houston.
RECENT PLAYOFF HISTORY:
Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots quarterbackTom Brady
(12) directs the offense against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Throw out the January 2010 Wild Card match-up as so few key players remain from the two squads that talking about Ray Rice, WIllis McGahee, Mark Clayton, Derrick Mason, Randy Moss, Sammy Morris, Sam Aiken, Ben Watson, and Laurence Maroney is completely irrelevant to next week’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game. Defenses featuring Chris Carr, Dawan Landry, Domonique Foxworth, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Darius Butler, Shawn Springs, Gary Guyton, Adalius Thomas, and Brandon Meriweather mean nothing this week.
In January 2012 the Patriots came from behind early in the fourth quarter on a Brady keeper on fourth-and-goal from the one to take the lead. They then had to hold on with little-known back-up cornerback Sterling Moore lining up with wide receiver Julian Edelman in the secondary to hold off the Ravens in the red zone with less than 30 seconds to play. With Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missing an easy 32-yard field goal at the end of the game, it propelled New England to the Super Bowl.
The next season it was another New England-Baltimore slugfest in the AFC Championship Game in January 2013 as the Ravens turned a 13-7 Patriots lead at halftime into a 28-13 upset at Gillette Stadium. The Ravens outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second-half as the Rob Gronkowski-less New England offense was repeatedly stymied by the Ravens defense with New England conservatively punting from the Baltimore 34-yard line rather than attempting a long field goal and a key fumble by Stevan Ridley and two fourth quarter interceptions. On offense, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco attacked a defense without starting cornerback Aqib Talib down the field repeatedly and New England was sent home.
Dec 22, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount (29) runs past Baltimore Ravens linebackerCourtney Upshaw
(91) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Last season the New England Patriots faced the Baltimore Ravens in week sixteen in Baltimore with the home team needing a win to secure a playoff spot and the Patriots having already wrapped up the AFC East. However, the Patriots drove down the field three times in a row to start the game and jump out to a 17-0 lead over the Ravens. Despite a receiving corps of Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Michael Hoomanawanui and Julian Edelman, Brady was efficient and the duo of LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley led a rushing attack that gained 142 yards (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The final score was 41-7, but it was 20-7 midway through the fourth quarter before Baltimore completely imploded in the last three minutes of the game: Blount and Ridley pounded down the field against a tired Ravens defense scoring a decisive touchdown. With Flacco on the bench, the Ravens fumbled away a score then threw an interception returned for a touchdown turning a close game (especially with the Baltimore defense clamping down after the first quarter) into a laugher.
Dec 21, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) is sacked by Houston Texans defensive endJ.J. Watt
(99) during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium. The Texans defeated the Ravens 25-13. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
In 2014 the Baltimore Ravens overcame a horrible start to the season with the entire Ray Rice saga swirling around the team to be able to turn their season around. Head coach John Harbaugh kept the team together and after a week seven win over the Falcons were sitting at 5-2 and the favorites in the AFC North. However, three losses in the next five games had the Ravens at 7-5 before wins over Miami and Jacksonville had them ready to lock up a playoff spot with nine wins with two games to play.
A loss to Houston in week sixteen left Baltimore needing a win against Cleveland and some help to get into the playoffs. They won a listless game against an undermanned Browns team and then inexplicably the San Diego Chargers could muster little effort against an already eliminated Kansas City Chiefs team which put the Ravens in position to sneak into the sixth and final playoff spot and a match-up against their rival Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round as the teams played for the third time this season.
On Saturday, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 in a game that saw the Ravens give up a ton of yards through the air and struggle to run the ball but make enough plays to hammer their way to a win taking advantage of numerous mistakes by the Steelers. The Steelers missed All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell but credit the Ravens defense for matching up with the Steelers potent offense and making key plays when necessary to pull the upset.
Dec 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running backJustin Forsett
(29) runs with the ball in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
After the suspension and release of Ray Rice, the Ravens desperately needed to find a contributor at running back and surprisingly found one in veteran journeyman Justin Forsett. Add in the contributions of veteran wide receiver Steve Smith and Flacco had tools at his disposal on offense. Flacco threw for 3,986 yards completing 62.1% of his passes and throwing 27 touchdowns and limiting his interceptions to just a dozen.
Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards while adding 44 receptions as the 29-year old journeyman came into 2014 with 1,671 career rushing yards in six seasons. Smith led the offense with 79 receptions for 1,065 yards while deep threat Torrey Smith added 49 catches for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns. At tight end former Houston Texans veteran Owen Daniels added 48 catches for 527 yards.
The Ravens revamped offensive line is the key to their success on offense more than any single player. Former left guard Marshal Yanda moved to the right side in 2014 and recently moved to right tackle as he has been their top blocker all season. The loss of stud left tackle Eugene Monroe against Houston in week sixteen (after he missed a handful of games earlier in the year) dealt the Ravens a serious blow.
Fill-in rookie undrafted free agent left tackle James Hurst has been absolutely terrible and Chandler Jones must be salivating thinking about the match-up with Hurst on Sunday after he allowed six pressures by Pittsburgh’s pass rush. Center Jeremy Zuttah is consistent and a very good run blocker in the middle while rookie fifth round draft pick right guard John Urschel is relatively untested and left guard Kelechi Osemele has quietly been a force in the running game.
THE REVIS FACTOR:
Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New England Patriots cornerbackDarrelle Revis
(24) gestures after the Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers 23-14 at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
The allure of the Baltimore game is just to see feisty veteran wide receiver Steve Smith face-off against All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis has been a force in New England taking away the top option in opposing offenses while Smith is one of the most aggressive offensive players in the game. With a dearth of receiving targets–former New England Patriots practice squad wide receiver Kamar Aiken is the number three receiver in Baltimore–the Patriots may be able to hold the Ravens in check in the passing game next week and that starts with stopping Steve Smith.
In three career match-ups, Revis has handed Smith his lunch while with Tampa Bay and New York. In those three games combined, Revis has held Smith to two catches on eleven targets for 21 yards with two interceptions and four passes defended. The breakdown:
2013 , week 8 – Tampa Bay vs Carolina: Smith had no catches on 2 targets with both passes defended by Revis in coverage;
2013, week 13 – Tampa Bay vs Carolina: Smith was held to 2 catches for 16 yards in coverage by Revis who was also credited with a pass defended.
2009, week 12 New York Jets vs Carolina: Smith had just one catch for for 5 yards on 7 targets in coverage by Revis who had 2 interceptions and one pass defended.
(per ProFootballFocus.com — subscription required).
Nov 9, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Tennessee Titans offensive tackleMichael Oher
(72) blocks Baltimore Ravens linebackerElvis Dumervil
(58) in the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 21-7. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
On defense, the Ravens feed off their strong front seven which covers the deficiencies in the secondary. Linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith and defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata are strong against the run while linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee excel at rushing the quarterback off the edge. Having Ngata back from suspension makes a big difference for the Ravens in the pass rush as Ngata is their only legitimate inside rusher with second-round draft pick Timmy Jernigan banged up.
Dumervil, Suggs, and McPhee must get pressure on Brady and with former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees running the 3-4 defense, expect a number of blitzes to overload one side of the offensive line much like Miami (17 and then 9 blitzes), the Jets (7 and then 10 blitzes), and Green Bay (14 blitzes) were able to do to slow the New England passing attack. To combat the blitz, the Patriots will need to spread the Baltimore defense with multiple receivers and the hurry-up shotgun offense to force them back into coverage and let Brady pick them apart.
While the Ravens have a good defense, blitzing is imperative because they must be able to get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady before he sits back and attacks their secondary. The Ravens lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith at mid-season and revamped the entire secondary moving safety to Matt Elam to cornerback and bringing in Rashaan Melvin off the waiver wire to start opposite of Lardarius Webb. Safeties Darian Stewart and Will Hill are good, but not difference makers. With time to throw, Brady could pick apart the Ravens defense with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Shane Vereen creating match-up nightmares for the undermanned Ravens secondary.