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Game Preview: A Different Feeling This Time Around

The Ravens have more confidence because of their 2008 AFC championship experience.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, January 21st, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Categories: AFC Title vs Patriots, Ryan Mink

The Ravens went to the 2008 AFC championship with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback.
 

Now that they’re back for a second time during the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era, things have changed.
 
After falling in Pittsburgh in 2008, the Ravens feel they’re in a better position to get over the hump this Sunday in New England for a Super Bowl berth.
 
“I think the feeling is totally different,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “[That was a] very talented team but, at the same time, I truly believe that an experienced team will outweigh a talented team any day. That’s what we have now.
 
“We have total experience on what it’s supposed to feel like, what you’re supposed to do to prepare and what the mentality is going into it. I think our confidence is definitely very high just because we have been through those bumps and bruises.”
 
During the past four years, the Ravens have done everything but get to the Super Bowl.
 
After reaching the AFC championship game in 2008, they lost in the divisional round in 2009 (Indianapolis) and 2010 (Pittsburgh).
 
Baltimore has won the fourth-most regular season games (44) in the NFL during the four years. But the Ravens know they have to take the next step to be considered “special.”
 
“We are definitely a good football team. That is without question,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “To be a special team, you have to win championships. We are working towards that. That is why we are here right now.”

Video Preview: Ravens vs. Patriots

 
3 Matchups To Watch
 
CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR Wes Welker
Webb has developed into one of the conference’s top cornerbacks. Welker is arguably the AFC’s top wide receiver. Welker makes the Patriots offense tick, evidenced by his 122 receptions this season. Webb, who notched two interceptions last week against Houston, can play outside or inside with the diminutive Welker.
 
OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Matt Light
In terms of sacks, Suggs was shut out against Houston. But now that he doesn’t have to worry as much about the run, Suggs should be able to come stronger off the edge. He has a history with quarterback Tom Brady, and has had success against Light. Against him in the 2009 wild-card game, Suggs came around the edge for an early sack/strip.
 
S Bernard Pollard vs. TE Rob Gronkowski
Tight end Rob Gronkowski is the toughest matchup on the field at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. It’s unclear who will be assigned to him, whether the Ravens will devote extra people to him or attempt to bracket him in a zone. But Gronkowski makes his living going up the seam, which is where Pollard lurks. The second-year player has 20 touchdowns this year, including three last week.
 
3 Questions To Answer
 
Can Flacco light it up?
Flacco has been at the middle of the weekly debate leading up to this game, with pundits and teammates both calling him out and backing him up. After facing tough defenses almost all year, Flacco has a chance to have a big day against New England’s 31st-ranked pass defense. Will he rise up and take the Ravens to the Super Bowl?
 
Can the Ravens pressure Brady?
Baltimore didn’t sack Houston rookie quarterback T.J. Yates. Whether they can stop Brady may come down to how much pressure they can put on him. Watch for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to push the pocket up the middle. Baltimore could use big days from Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee too.
 
What wins championships: offense or defense?
The Patriots have one of the NFL’s top offenses. The Ravens have one of the best defenses. It’s a classic tilt and should provide another case for the debate of which one wins championships. Baltimore dealt Brady his career-worst statistical postseason performance in their last meeting in 2009.
 
Team Rankings (Regular Season)
 
Ravens
Total Offense – 338.7 (15th)
Rush Offense – 124.8 (10th)
Pass Offense – 213.9 (19th)
Points Per Game – 23.6 (12th)
 
Total Defense – 288.9 (3rd)
Rush Defense – 92.6 (2nd)
Pass Defense – 196.3 (4th)
Points Per Game – 16.6 (3rd)
 
Patriots
Total Offense – 428.0 (2nd)
Rush Offense – 110.3 (20th)
Pass Offense – 317.8 (2nd)
Points Per Game – 32.1 (3rd)
 
Total Defense – 411.1 (31st)
Rush Defense – 117.1 (17th)
Pass Defense – 293.9 (31st)
Points Per Game – 21.4 (15th)

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