NFL Nation: Ravens-Patriots Conference 2011

Final Word: Ravens at Patriots

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
1:30
PM ET
Conference Championship Final Word: Ravens-Patriots | Giants-49ers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship Game:

Protecting Brady: One of the most underrated aspects of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's record-tying performance last week was his stellar pass protection. Brady was barely touched in a divisional-round win over the Denver Broncos. He threw for 363 yards and six touchdowns with zero sacks. Brady was hit only twice in 34 pass attempts. Pass protection once again will be key against an aggressive Ravens’ defense. Baltimore didn’t register a sack last week but traditionally has success getting to Brady, particularly with outside linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs.

[+] EnlargeNew England's Wes Welker
Mark L. Baer/US PRESSWIREWes Welker, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season, had 55 yards and a score against Denver.
Forgetting Wes: Much of the Patriots talk this week has focused on their talented tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. (We now call them the “Boston TE Party.”) The pair combined for 261 total yards and four touchdowns in the divisional round. But are people forgetting about Wes Welker? He led the NFL in receptions (122) by a wide margin this season and also led the Patriots in receiving yards (1,569). Welker quietly had six catches for 55 yards and a touchdown against Denver. The Ravens will be doing all they can to slow New England’s tight ends. That could create a lot of opportunities for Welker. He could see a lot of Ravens corner Lardarius Webb, who had two big interceptions last week against the Houston Texans.

The Ninkovich factor: One of the surprise stars in New England's win over Denver was linebacker Rob Ninkovich. The sixth-year player recorded five tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. But when you go deeper into the statistics, you discover Ninkovich is one of the tone-setters for the Patriots’ defense. Including the postseason, Ninkovich has all eight sacks in New England victories. In three Patriots’ losses, Ninkovich was a non-factor with 13 tackles and zero sacks.

Final Word: Ravens at Patriots

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
1:30
PM ET
Conference Championship Final Word: Ravens-Patriots | Giants-49ers

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Ravens-Patriots AFC championship game:

Tight coverage on Patriots tight ends: This a case of strength versus strength. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been the NFL's most dangerous tag team at tight end this season, combining for 2,237 receiving yards (an average of 139.8 per game) and 24 touchdown grabs. The Ravens have been one of the league's best defenses at containing tight ends. Baltimore has allowed 667 receiving yards to tight ends this season, third-fewest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Some defenses have difficulty matching up with athletic tight ends when they split out wide, but that hasn't been the case with the Ravens. They’ve been particularly stingy to tight ends lining up as wide receivers -- only 199 of the 677 yards allowed were to tight ends splitting to the outside.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Frank Victores/US PresswireThe Ravens are 21-1 in the past two seasons when Ray Rice gets at least 20 touches.
Throwing to Rice: Over the last two seasons (including playoffs), the Ravens are 21-1 (.954) when running back Ray Rice gets at least 20 touches. They are 5-8 (.385) when he doesn't. The key is touches and not necessarily carries. After Rice gained 159 yards rushing in that 2009 playoff game, the Patriots limited him to 88 yards rushing on 28 carries (a less-than-mediocre 3.1 yards per carry) in the last meeting. Look for the Ravens to get Rice into space by throwing him the ball. In New England's final three regular-season games, running backs averaged 13.4 yards per catch against the Patriots. Since 2008, Rice has led NFL running backs in catches (250) and yards receiving (2,235).

Playoff road warriors: Baltimore hasn't been the best road team this season, going 4-4 and losing to two teams with losing records (Jacksonville and Seattle). But the Ravens are perhaps the best postseason road team ever. The Ravens are 7-4 all-time on the road in the playoffs, the second-best road record for any franchise behind the Panthers (4-2), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Since the Ravens began playing in 1996, their seven road playoff victories are two more than any other team. Only three teams in NFL history (Packers, Cowboys and Titans/Oilers) have more playoff road wins than the Ravens.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider