Aiming for the Strike Zone

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The last time the Ravens faced off with the New England Patriots, anger and frustration poured out of Baltimore's locker room following a 27-21 loss.

Two controversial roughing-the-passer penalties Tom Brady lobbied for and received hadn't determined the outcome of the game, but they certainly played a role.

The Ravens now believe they understand how to deal with what many pundits call the "Brady Rule."

It starts with tackling within the "strike zone," which essentially refers to the area between a quarterback's shoulders and waist.

"Our guys, I think, over the last three or four weeks have done that," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "I don't know that our players have ever tried to maliciously hit a quarterback. They just don't play football that way. They're as physical and as tough as anybody in the league, but they understand the rules, and they understand how they're supposed to hit quarterbacks. I hope we have this conversation afterwards, you know, 'How was the strike zone?' That's a goal for us."

The Ravens have, in fact, been better of late. The last roughing flag came Dec. 13 against the Detroit Lions, when defensive end Trevor Pryce* *was late getting to quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the first quarter of a 48-3 Baltimore victory.

Obviously, Pryce's penalty didn't sting as much as those in the New England game.

That day, linebacker Terrell Suggs grazed Brady's right knee, and the three-time Super Bowl champion limped around and gestured to the officials.

After acknowledging Brady's cries, the official then called the penalty.

Suggs' infraction cost 15 yards, and two plays later, running back Sammy Morris crossed the goal line from 10 yards out for a 17-7 Patriots lead.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also was penalized when his hand brushed Brady's helmet on a third-and-9 pass that fell incomplete. With new life, the Patriots scored a touchdown on that drive, as well.

Afterwards, linebacker Ray Lewis did not hide his disappointment.

"It's embarrassing to let a defensive player play his heart out, and then you call something like that," he said at the time. "It's embarrassing for the league."

Lewis, who was not fined for his comments regarding the officiating, has since moved on.

"You don't worry about that," said Lewis on Wednesday. "You go play football, and I'm preparing my team to go try to win at New England. You don't go and say, 'What if they try to do this, what if they do that?' No. It's too much to worry about. The game is way too fast, and I know they're not thinking about it. So why should I think about it?"

In a league where the quarterback is a team's top commodity, the Ravens understand a focus on protecting passers.

Such protection was heightened when Brady was lost for the entire 2008 campaign when Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard hit his knee on the Patriots' opening quarter of the season.

Now, all quarterbacks are shielded from contact with their knees or head.

Does Brady, who completed 371 of 565 passes for 4,398 yards and 28 touchdowns this year to earn NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors, get special treatment?

"Honestly, I don't think so because if you hit Peyton Manning, it happens," said Pryce. "If you hit any quarterback… I know quarterbacks make this league go around, so if the business of the NFL doesn't protect them, you're not protecting your biggest asset. That's just called reality. That's what it is."

Brady freely admits he encourages officials to toss their yellow hankies.

"Oh, I'm begging for preferential treatment if they'll give it to me," he said Wednesday in a conference call, laughing as he spoke. "I just don't think they'll give it to me all the time. So, I'm trying to butter up to those officials before the game and during the game so that we do get a call once in a while. If it helps our team win, I'm all for it."

The Ravens will have to pressure the pocket, considering the Patriots' focus on the aerial attack. New England threw the ball on 55 percent of its offensive snaps this year, while Brady's passing yardage and touchdowns were the second-highest totals of his stellar career.

Reports have stated that Brady is suffering from three cracked ribs and a broken finger, which could draw extra attention from officials this weekend.

But the Ravens won't have to deal with the killer 15-yard penalties if they simply wrap up Brady's torso.

"You've got to stay off the head and hit him in the middle," said defensive tackle Kelly Gregg. "Stay above the knees and try to get a good hit on him. You've got to stay in the strike zone, hit him in the numbers and put the screws in the numbers. Hopefully, there won't be no close calls and everything gets called the same."

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