New England Patriots: 5 Keys to the AFC Championship Game
What do the New England Patriots have to do this afternoon to avoid an upset at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. Can they just show up and rely on Tom Brady to be......well Tom Brady? No, New England must set into motion the schematic success that it has had over the course of the last decade with Brady at the helm in order to win here.
Today's article is going to give you five quick keys to success for New England in Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship Game.
1. Balance on Offense
When New England is running the ball effectively, it is extremely hard to stop on the offensive side of the ball. Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have made major impacts in their second season. Equally as important, New England is utilizing a sophisticated run-blocking scheme that makes it nearly impossible for opposing defenses to stop. It is averaging over 120 rushing yards per game in its last 10 outings. If the Patriots are able to have that type of success on the ground, Baltimore will not come away with an upset victory this evening.
2. Pressure Joe Flacco
As you might have already known, Flacco is downright terrible when it comes to performing under pressure. He fails to step into the pass, is way too inaccurate and makes some ridiculously bad decisions. If Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are able to get to Flacco early, he will be thrown off his rhythm from the last two games. If not, you can expect him to have success throwing to Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in the passing game. While New England's secondary is still vastly improved, it needs consistent pressure up front in order to succeed.
3. Contain Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
Imagine that. I am following up my point about putting pressure on Flacco with a more important key for New England later today. If it is able to hold Baltimore's running game in check, the Ravens will be in for a long day on offense. Rice and Pierce combined for over 2,200 total yards during the regular season and have been putting some work in during the playoffs. They averaged 160 total yards in the first two postseason games. Needless to say, if Baltimore has that type of success on the ground it will be putting Flacco in a great situation to have a solid game. If not, watch out.
4. Go After Ray Lewis
This might not be a popular opinion, but Lewis is nowhere near the player he used to be. As former NFL defensive end Ryan Riddle, Nick Slegel and I discussed on the radio Thursday, the future Hall of Fame linebacker can actually be utilized as an advantage for New England. Teams have had success running directly at him as well as forcing him into coverage. Ask yourself one question. If Lewis has to drop back into coverage against Aaron Hernandez, who wins that battle? Yeah, my point exactly.
5. Play Their Game
If New England comes out and plays up to its level this evening, Baltimore will not stand a chance no matter how it performs in opposition. The Patriots are clearly the more talented football team here. Of course it all starts and end with Brady, who is looking to make his six Super Bowl appearance. If he has one of those dominating performances, Flacco will not be able to match it. On the other hand, if the Patriots come out sluggish and soft to start the game, like we have seen a few times this season, we would easily be looking at a major upset here. I am pretty sure Brady and Bill Belichick have already discussed this with the rest of the team.