Originally written on Ravens Football Machine  |  Last updated 11/19/14

Listening to an interview with Qadry Ismail and Stan White (former NFL players) on WBAL-AM last night, I was given some clarity on the matchup advantages of both the underdog Ravens and the New England Patriots:

1. The Ravens match up better in the running game against the Patriots than they did against the Houston Texans;

2. The Ravens defensive secondary is healthier and better at coverage than Tom Brady may anticipate.

The traditional thought on beating Brady is getting to him often and early with a multi-look pass rush... that approach worked for the Ravens in the 2010 playoff game in Foxboro. But the Patriots will counter that strategy by probably keeping an extra blocker or two on the line or in the backfield.  By doing so, the Pats may actually play into the Ravens hands by removing one or two of Brady's receiving targets on certain passing downs, and the Ravens are hoping those hold-backs will include one of Brady's excellent tight ends.

But the Ravens also know that Brady does not have a "favorite" target...he can find and hit anyone that's open.

That's where the Ravens' underrated defensive secondary comes in. They've got to execute the tight coverage they displayed against Houston---and then some. Fortunately for the Ravens, despite free safety Ed Reed being a little banged up, everyone's healthy and playing at their highest level of team communication all year. There is not a single dog in the Ravens secondary this season. Even rookie Jimmy Smith is coming on big time and contributing at corner and in the nickel package. It's been a revelation to watch the Ravens secondary develop this season.

As for being able to run the ball against the Patriots?  This is key...

QB Joe Flacco is at his best when he has some kind of sustained running attack to keep the defense off balance. Joe can make every throw in the book... but unlike Brady, he is not usualy going to beat you if you make him throw it 50 times.

The good news for the Ravens, who had a very difficult time running against the #2 run defense (the Texans) last week, the Patriots front line and front seven are comprised of classic old school Big Guys...which favors the kind of running plays that Cam Cameron calls and Ray Rice executes, and which FB Vonta Leach excels at lead-blocking for...

The Texans front seven is one of the quickest, smallest, most agile units in the NFL. Ray Rice had a lot of trouble hiding from them or cutting back on them.  He will be running against a Patriots front that does not present the same mobility or agility.

We'll go into more detailed game preview mode as this week goes on. But I just wanted to give you those two match-up observations which make this a closer game than many pundits have predicted.

John Eisenberg of the Ravens NFL website sums up the overall match-up drama this way:

"New England is taking an interesting gamble, trying to win a fourth Super Bowl with a brilliant offense and little defense, basically the Ravens’ blueprint in reverse. The Saints and Packers also tried, but their lack of defense caught up with them last weekend. The Patriots caught a break, getting overmatched Tim Tebow in the divisional round.

The Ravens won’t roll over in the same fashion. They have too much defense, too many veterans desperate to make a Super Bowl. And their offense can challenge the Patriots’ vulnerable defense.

Does that offense stick with a style that has worked and pound away on the ground with Ray Rice? Or does it challenge a New England pass defense that is the second-worst in NFL history statistically? That’s a decision for Cameron to make this week."

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