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Friday, January 18, 2013
Three-point stance: Baltimore Ravens

By John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Information

In Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, the Ravens will try to join the 2010 Jets as the second team ever to beat Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the same postseason.

RavensBaltimore is no stranger to big road games, as only the Packers (10) and Cowboys (nine) have more road playoff wins than the Ravens (eight). That’s an impressive total given the Packers’ first road win was in 1936, 60 years before the Ravens existed.

Ray Lewis, the last remaining original Raven, isn’t the only one with a legacy on the line Sunday. A win would put Tom Brady in line to be the first quarterback to start six Super Bowls, and allow Bill Belichick to tie Don Shula’s record six Super Bowl appearances by a head coach.

Here are three specific areas to watch Sunday:

• Joe Flacco has been excellent throwing deep in two playoff games this season. Flacco is 8 of 12 for 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield in the playoffs. Baltimore’s vertical passing game hurt the Patriots in Week 3 as well, with Flacco completing 4 of 8 deep throws for 111 yards and a touchdown to Torrey Smith. However, none of the players in coverage on Flacco’s four completions is still starting or playing the position he did in that game. Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard were not on the active roster in Week 3, and Devin McCourty's move to safety greatly improved the Patriots’ defense on deep throws. After Talib joined the team, only the Titans allowed fewer 30-yard pass plays on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield than the Patriots. Overall, the New England defense had seven interceptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield this season, with only Atlanta (eight) recording more.

• In Week 3, Wes Welker (142 yards) and Brandon Lloyd (108) posted two of the top-five yardage totals by wide receivers against the Baltimore defense this season. Welker’s 142 yards were a season high for both him and the Ravens’ defense, and he gained 85 of those yards after the catch. Overall, Baltimore allowed 146 yards after catch to Patriots receivers, the only unit in the league to post at least 100 yards after catch in every game this season. High-percentage throws and yards after catch have been a recipe for success this season for Brady, who has made no secret of his respect for Ravens safety Ed Reed’s impact on deep passing. Brady is 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) with four interceptions on passes more than 10 yards downfield against the Ravens in their past two postseason meetings. Brady has thrown six interceptions on passes more than 10 yards downfield against the Ravens since the start of 2008 (including playoffs), two more than he has thrown against any other opponent during that time.

• Ray Rice has the most yards from scrimmage per game against the Patriots of any player in history. Rice has averaged 133 yards in his five career games against New England, an average he raised with 150 yards in Baltimore’s Week 3 win. A big reason for Cam Cameron’s late-season firing as offensive coordinator was the way the Ravens used Rice on offense. Rice received one or no touches on third down in four of Cameron’s 13 games as offensive coordinator this season. Rice has posted at least 115 yards from scrimmage in three of five games under Jim Caldwell, and he rested for most of a meaningless Week 17 game with the Bengals. Rice is the focal point of the offense, but has been spelled at times by the effective Bernard Pierce. Pierce has gained at least 90 yards from scrimmage in three of the past four games.