The Ravens and Patriots meet in the playoffs … again.
It's the fourth time in the past six years that the two teams will square off in the postseason. It's as if they were destined to meet.
Here are five things to watch:
Pressure On Tom BradyDoing this is easier said than done. The Patriots quarterback is very good at getting the ball out of his hands quickly. He is also good at stepping forward to avoid an outside pass rush. That's why the Ravens' interior pass rush may take on even more importance. If defensive tackles Haloti Ngata, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan can push the pocket into Brady's lap, he's not the same quarterback. They'll be facing rookie center Bryan Stork.* *
Can Ravens Run?
Baltimore broke off some nice runs in the first half of Saturday's win against the Steelers, but ran into a wall in the second half. Despite a solid offensive performance and 30 points, the Ravens rushed for just 58 yards. Center Jeremy Zuttah struggled with Pittsburgh nose tackle Steve McLendon last week. Now he'll face one of the biggest, baddest nose tackles in the game in the Patriots' Vince Wilfork. If the Patriots disrupt the Ravens' zone-stretch run scheme, it will put the heat on quarterback Joe Flacco.
Playoff Joe In FoxboroughIt's well documented at this point. Flacco plays some of his best football in the postseason. He'll be facing perhaps the NFL's best cornerback duo this time around, however, in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Flacco didn't back down from the challenge this week, saying he won't shy away from Revis. It will be worth watching whether Flacco has that same swagger he's had in previous playoff games once the game begins.
Baltimore's Big-Play AbilityThe Ravens had success in Pittsburgh because they were aggressive and hit some chunk plays. Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. caught a 40-yard pass and Baltimore drew penalties on a couple other deep passes. The Patriots, specifically Browner, has been known for drawing flags in coverage this season. If the Ravens can hit a big plays, or get penalty yardage, it will open up the Pats defense for the run game and play-action passing.
How The Ravens Cover GronkPerhaps the biggest unknown is how to stop Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The hulking 6-foot-6, 265-pound giant is difficult for anyone to cover. Gronkowski didn't play in the 2012 AFC championship, and Patriots fans and media feel he'll make the biggest difference in reversing the outcome. Baltimore had safety Will Hill cover similarly big, playmaking Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Hill came up with a pick-six. Will the Ravens try the same assignment or a different mix of coverages?
Today's Week of Winning Code Word is: THIGHMASTER55