By Samuel Njoku
The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Here’s the scouting report:
New England Patriots: (12-4-0) AFC East Champions & AFC #2 Seed
The New England Patriots’ offense revolves around Tom Brady. He is the leader of the offense and the team usually goes as far as he takes them. The Patriots will approach this game no different than previous ones. Get the ball in the hands of Tom Brady and dare the defense to beat him. There are plenty of ways for New England to accomplish this. But the loss of Gronkowski severely hurts their base formation. The Pats love to run a 2-TE set similar to Baltimore. With his absence, they’ll run more of a 3-WR set that will affect their run game more than anything else. Gronkowski is an underrated run blocking tight end that helped clear the edge for running lanes. His absence will require New England to fool the Ravens to thinking it’s a pass when it’s really a run play. This won’t be entirely difficult because of the man under center, but it will be something to look out for.
Speaking of the running game, this unit has the ability to call upon that aspect of football at will. Stevan Ridley may be the best running back the Patriots have had since Corey Dillon. Ridley leads his team with 12 rushing touchdowns this season. That’s 3 more than Ray Rice if you’re keeping track. Last season, the Ravens only had to account for Tom Brady. This year, they’ll have to account for both the run and the pass. The Ravens were in a similar situation with the Broncos last week. They’ll need to mimic their performance again this week.
The Patriots’ defense still has plenty of holes for Baltimore to exploit on Sunday. But they can make plays when the opportunity presents itself. The main matchup to watch will be Vince Wilfork against Matt Birk. Last season, Wilfork had no trouble moving the line at will. That disrupted the flow of the offense and kept Flacco moving in the pocket. The Ravens will need to do a much better job keeping him in check if they want to keep up with the Patriots high-octane offense.
The Ravens should feel confident heading into this game because the Broncos’ defense is far better than the Patriots, and the Ravens were able to score 38 points on a top 5 defensive unit. The Patriots’ defense ranks near the bottom of the NFL. Flacco has had success against this defense the past couple of years. Don’t expect things to be any different on Sunday.
How many times have we seen Bill Belichick in the AFC Championship game? The man is the standard in which all coaches are measured. Against Baltimore, Coach Belichick is 5-2. The Patriots lead the All-Time Series against the Ravens 7-2.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.