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One person not subscribing to the theory that the Patriots have a weak defense is John Harbaugh.
He has been quick to dismiss the notion throughout the week of preparation for the AFC championship.
“I see a 13-3, 14-3 defense,” Harbaugh said, alluding to the Patriots record. “That’s what I see. That’s the bottom line. They’re good enough to be 14-3. So, it’s pretty impressive.”
New England’s defense is routinely criticized by pundits and the media, and the Patriots defense ranked as one of the worst in the NFL during the regular season. The Patriots finished 31st in average passing yards (293.9) and total yards (411.1) allowed per game.
But a closer look at the numbers shows that the Patriots have an opportunistic defense, one that can create points for their quick-strike offense.
The Patriots forced 34 turnovers in the regular season, second-best in the NFL. If New England is able to get turnovers and capitalize on them with points, then the Ravens could be forced to shift their game plan and limit Ray Rice’s involvement.
The Ravens have shown this season – against Seattle and Jacksonville –that when Rice’s involvement is diminished they have struggled to score points. That makes protecting the football and avoiding a deep early deficit even more important this week.
Plus, the Patriots have done fairly well against the run throughout this season. They also ranked in the middle of the pack (15th) in the league by giving up an average of 21.4 points per game.
“For us to disrespect them in any way and just feel like we are going to just run the ball all over them and throw the ball all over them while they are just laying there and letting us do it is not the right way to go about it,” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “You have to prepare the same and go out and execute.”
One of the reasons the Patriots have given up as many yards through the air is possibly because their offense scores so many points – they average 32.1 points per game – and that forces opposing teams pass the ball more and try to score quickly.
They play up-tempo on offense and turn most of their games into shootouts, so opposing offenses try to match their production by going to the pass as well. That shows in the lopsided statistics.
But even if some of the stats portray a susceptible defense, the Ravens aren’t taking them lightly this week.
“I see a very capable defense,” Harbaugh said. “I see a lot of talented players who play very hard. A very big, physical front, talented back end, [and they are] obviously well-coached with a good scheme. So, I see a big obstacle in front of us.”