Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/20/12
The Baltimore Ravens during the week leading up to the AFC championship game at New England are seemingly on their heels just a bit. Following a much too close for comfort 20-13 win against a feisty Houston Texans team at home, star safety Ed Reed called out his quarterback Joe Flacco over the airwaves, leaving the impression that not all is well in the camp of the 13-4 Ravens.

But can they draw strength from what is perceived to be a sign of reeling? Can they take what is the general belief that Flacco can be rattled and galvanize it to go up north on Sunday and come away with a win?  

If this Ravens team believes they are anything, it is a team of persistence. From the no flash Flacco, to the tough running style of Ray Rice, to the bruising attitude of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, this team’s play is a direct reflection of the way they see themselves.

So what are the keys to going to Foxborough and defeating the offensive juggernaut that is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots?

1. Play THEIR game: Brady is a master at exposing weakness, and when he sees it, he will pounce. All too often, opponents of the Pats are exposed and Brady and company not only make them pay, but completely take a team out of their own game plan.

On Sunday, the Ravens must do what they do best, which is run the ball consistently, take their shots downfield in a calculated fashion, and play solid defense and special teams. They must not become flustered by a big play, or a quick score by New England, as this can lead to a snowball effect, and Brady is a vulture when he sees a possible kill.  

2. Let Joe Flacco step up: Should Baltimore establish Rice on the ground, it is imperative that head coach John Harbaugh allow his fourth year signal caller to step into a role as a leader on his own team. This will only be done when Flacco wins a big game such as this title matchup. Win or lose, the Ravens must give Flacco the chance to sink or swim, and what better secondary to do it against with play action than the porous Patriots?

Flacco has shown he can win during the regular season, and he’s also won 5 playoff games, but none as big as the one he faces on Sunday. A year ago, he wilted in the second half under the pressure of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore let a 21-7 lead slip through their hands. If the Ravens hope to get to a Super Bowl, they must show confidence that Flacco can make plays, and he must deliver. 

3. Get in Brady’s face: The one sure way to have a chance at slowing down the dangerous Brady is by making him uncomfortable in the pocket. He is quite accustomed to having ample time to throw the ball, but on the rare occasions he faces a strong pass rush, he can become agitated and taken off his game. This may sound easy, but Brady and the Pats offense make it twice as difficult with their short drop, quick passing game. Brady is experienced, patient, and extremely comfortable taking his team down the field by simply moving the chains. He is just as adept at leading a 10-12 play drive as he is at hitting the big play. 

But this also plays to the strength of the Ravens defense, which is why this matchup will be of particular interest on Sunday. Baltimore’s defensive line is as good as they come, and coupled with a sound tackling linebacking corps and secondary, the Ravens have the tools to get pressure on Tom Brady, and make his life miserable. 

 

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