Last Sunday, the Ravens came away with a narrow 20-13 victory over the Texans to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens offensive line was bullied by the Texans front seven, which made moving the football down the field difficult. It was a strong first half for the Ravens that allowed them to play so poorly in the second half and still escape with the win. With the Texans up 3-0, the Ravens punted the ball away, and a bonehead fumble by Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens the ball inside the Texans 5 yard-line. After two failed conversions, Flacco finally rolled out and found TE Kris Wilson for the touchdown. Then, late in the second quarter, Flacco put the Ravens back on the board with a 10-yard pass to Anquan Boldin to make the score 17-3. The Texans narrowed that difference to 17-13 by halftime though, highlighted by a touchdown run from Arian Foster, who racked up over 130 rushing yards on the afternoon. In the second half, the Ravens defense stepped up when they were absolutely needed, keeping the Texans scoreless for the rest of the game. With a Billy Cundiff field goal and a game-sealing interception by Ed Reed, the Ravens lived to fight yet another week. While the Ravens defense did not once bring T.J. Yates to the ground, they did intercept him three times. It seems pathetic that a defense as strong as the Ravens would not get even one sack, but this needs some clarification. Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano intentionally put pressure on Andre Johnson and Arian Foster instead of Yates, given that their threats were much greater. Also, take a quick look at my score prediction from last week for this game. Not to toot my own horn or anything.
Player of the Game: Ravens CB Lardarius Webb-4 tackles, 2 interceptions
Key to the Win: It's hard to lose when you play mistake-free football, but the Ravens almost did it. They did not turn the ball over once, and for the first time in Ravens history, they did not even commit a penalty.
Next Sunday, the Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a playoff rematch with the AFC East Champion Patriots for the chance to play in Super Bowl XLVI. The Ravens played the Patriots in the Wild Card round back in 2010, and came away with a dominant 33-14 victory. It will be a daunting challenge for this Ravens team, but if the real Ravens come to play, not the ones who limped away with a win last week, I believe they can pull it off. Patriots QB Tom Brady is the NFL's Golden Boy, and with the Ravens aggressive style of play, watch out for yellow flags being thrown on hard hits to Brady. Unlike his 2010 squad, Brady's offensive core is decisively better than the one he had two years ago. WR Wes Welker, who is having the best season of his career, missed that game due to injury. Also, second-year TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have become the most dangerous threats on the field for the Patriots offense. Gronkowski's monstrous figure will prove difficult to cover come Sunday. The Ravens ability to limit the productivity of those three receivers could decide the outcome of this game. Also, the Ravens will need to put pressure on Brady, because if they don't he'll pick them apart all day. That means Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata will be major difference makers. If they can rattle him the way they did two years ago, the Ravens already have an advantage. The Patriots, however, are an entirely different team when it comes to the defensive side of the football. Their defense was ranked 31st during the regular season, and became a complete pushover for their opponents. The Ravens offense will have to take advantage of that as well. Joe Flacco's ability to conduct successful, time-efficient drives will also decide if the Ravens can put points on the board. By giving the ball to Ray Rice at least 25 times, you guarantee yourself time eaten off the clock, as well as points on the scoreboard. This is bound to be an entertaining, back-and-forth kind of game. Last week, we saw the league's two most high-powered offenses fall to great defenses, and I expect we'll see that again. The Patriots offense is right behind that of the Packers and Saints, but offense only gets you so far at this point in the season. Ladies and gentlemen, offenses may sell tickets, but defense wins championships. I have the Ravens winning, 27-24.
Key to the Game: If the Ravens want to keep Tom Brady off the field, as well as give their own defense a rest, they'll need to control the clock. As I said earlier, putting together long, effective drives that end in points is the way the Ravens will win this game.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Patriots
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots offensive line Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs was held without a sack last weekend, plus he's facing a quarterback he has a long history with. He'll be thirsty.
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker Edge: Welker
Analysis: Welker's maneuverability will help him get past Webb, but remember Webb still has not allowed a touchdown scored on him.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady Edge: Push
Analysis: You're talking about two of the greatest players of this era, this showdown will be classic.
Ravens linebackers vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski Edge: Gronkowski
Analysis: The Gronk is just too strong and too powerful to not have a big game at this stage, he is extremely dangerous.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Patriots S Patrick Chung Edge: Flacco
Analysis: Flacco needs to prove his naysayers wrong, and I think he'll do the job.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice is a great runner in this stadium, he'll be able to burn Ninkovich easily.
S Ed Reed-Ankle-PRB
WR Deion Branch-Knee-QST
S Patrick Chung-Knee-QST
TE Aaron Hernandez-Concussion-QST
Whoever wins the Ravens/Patriots game will play the winner of the Giants/49ers game, which will be played Sunday night, in the Super Bowl on February 5.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!