It’s been said over and over in today’s NFL: “The best way to contain a good quarterback is to keep him off the field.”
The Ravens would love to do just that this Sunday in New England - keep Tom Brady’s rear end firmly planted on the bench.
Brady and the Patriots offense are as good as it gets. They create matchup problems for every team they square off against, rack up points at a dizzying pace (37.3 points per game during their current nine-game winning streak) and can cause a game to get out of hand in a hurry.
But if the Ravens are able to control the clock, convert third downs and limit the number of possessions that Brady has to work with, they’ll have a shot to leave Gillette Stadium with a win.
“You’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to keep defenses honest, all those things. But I think it will be important for us to convert and stay on the field as much as we can,” center Matt Birk said. “The less chances you give them and Tom Brady, the better off you’ll be. At least you’ve got a chance then.”
The Patriots have the NFL’s fourth-worst third-down defense, allowing teams to covert 43 percent of their third-down opportunities. Of course, staying on the field and putting together eight-minute drives that result in touchdowns every time out is easier said than done.
The last time the Ravens beat the Patriots - which was in the wild card round of the 2009 playoffs - they leaned heavily on the run. A banged-up Joe Flacco threw the ball just 10 times, but Baltimore racked up 234 rushing yards on 54 carries en route to a 33-14 win.
They’d love to run the ball that effectively again, but know that more than likely, it will take a balanced offensive attack to get the job done this time.
“Anybody will tell you, when you can keep a quick-striking offense off the field, it limits the game,” running back Ray Rice said. “But with that being said, I think we have a great balance on this team. I think when we run it effectively, it sets up the pass. When we pass it effectively, it sets up the run. So, in order to keep Tom Brady off the field, I’m just going to say we have to simply execute at a high level. We have to play championship football. In championship football, it doesn’t matter how you win it. You just have to execute effectively, and I know I’ll be a major part in this game plan.”
The members of the Ravens’ offense are obviously well-aware of the Patriots’ ability to light up defenses and pile on the points. If Brady drops 30 on the Baltimore defense, the offense will need to be prepared to match it.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron says he won’t let the fact that Brady is on the other sideline affect his play-calling or force him to try and “outperform the other quarterback”, but the guys in pads know that when they get their opportunities to get on the scoreboard, they’re going to have to deliver.
“I think it would be safe to say we are going to have to score points to win this game,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “We have one of the top defenses in the league, and we stand by our defense and believe in our defense. They are pretty much the rock of our team. For us, we know we are going to have to help them out a lot. We have to try and take care of the ball. We can’t have any three-and-outs. We have to keep their offense off the field, keep our defense rested and score points.”