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Matchups to watch: Patriots at Ravens

12/20/2013

Doug Kapustin/MCT/Getty Images

The Ravens beat the Patriots in last season's AFC Championship.Six teams have played the New England Patriots at least five times in the past six years (including the playoffs). Among those six (New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts), only Baltimore (3-3) has a .500 record against the Patriots.

Considering New England’s 70-25 record against the rest of the league over that span, .500 is a success. The Ravens have taken two of the three postseason meetings between the teams, including last season’s AFC Championship.

Here’s a closer look at Sunday’s Week 16 matchup:

As the QB goes...

Simply put, the Ravens have received better quarterback play in recent meetings against the Patriots.

Joe Flacco vs. Tom Brady
Since 2008 (Including Playoffs)

Baltimore has picked off nine of Tom Brady's passes since 2008, tied with the Dolphins for most by any team. Miami has also played twice as many games (12) and allowed 14 more touchdowns vs. the Patriots than Baltimore.

The Ravens are a different defense from the unit that led the league in defensive expected points added from 2008-12 (+434). Baltimore’s +29.8 defensive EPA ranks eighth in the league, not as dominant as year’s past.

Patriots pass rush vs. Ravens offensive line

The Patriots are reliant on a four-man pass rush (they rush four men 75 percent of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL), but their defensive line has struggled this season.

New England has controlled the line of scrimmage on 43 percent of pass plays this season, last in the league (for an explainer on how that is calculated, click here. Even before Vince Wilfork’s Week 4 injury ended his season, the Patriots defensive line only controlled 44 percent of pass plays. That’s well below league average (50 percent), a number New England has not met in its last nine games.

The player whose presence is missed the most isn’t Wilfork, but Tommy Kelly. When New England had Kelly on the field, it controlled the line on slightly more than half of opposing dropbacks. Without Kelly, the number drops to only 41 percent.

Every team wants to pressure the quarterback, but for New England it’s especially important. The Patriots defense has the third-best Total QBR allowed when quarterbacks are under pressure, but the fourth-worst when quarterbacks aren’t pressured. The 26-spot difference in rank is the biggest in the league.

Ravens CB vs. Patriots WR

Baltimore’s secondary has defended or intercepted 50 passes this season, tied for fourth most in the league, with Lardarius Webb’s 18 the second most among players. Only the Ravens and Browns have three defensive backs with at least 10 pass breakups or interceptions.

Ravens Pass Defense
By Target Location This Season

Baltimore is a top-10 defense in completion percentage and Total QBR allowed against at least three wide receivers, and has excelled defending slot receivers.

Brady’s weapons last week were all slot receivers. Of Brady’s 55 passes against Miami, 43 went to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce or Austin Collie.

Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB

Ray Rice has topped 125 yards from scrimmage in four of his six games against New England, but New England held him to 70 yards from scrimmage and 3.0 yards per opportunity (targets and rushes) in last year’s AFC Championship. Both were the lowest of his six games against the Patriots.

Rice’s recent form has been dismal. His 3.1 yards per rush ranks 46th among qualified rushers, while no qualified running back has averaged fewer yards after contact per rush than Rice (1.1). He’s averaged 4.2 yards per target, 44th in the league among 50 backs with at least 20 targets.

Is facing New England what Rice needs to get back on track? The Patriots defense has allowed 150.4 yards from scrimmage per game by running backs, seventh most in the league. With no Jerod Mayo, look for Dont’a Hightower on early downs and possibly Dane Fletcher in sub packages to be tasked with slowing Rice.