#3 – Cohesive Secondary
Corey Graham has been great. Cary Williams, despite a rash of criticism from fans, has been one of the Ravens most reliable defenders all season and continues to be just that. Chykie Brown has embraced the opportunity he’s been presented with and looks to be anything but a weak link in the Ravens defensive backfield. And perhaps most impressively Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard were willing to check their egos at the door on Saturday and sit extra deep insuring that Peyton Manning and the Broncos had no choice but to dink and dunk their way down the field.
If you’re looking for reasons why John Fox and the Broncos twice ended halves against the Ravens by kneeling out, the jobs done by Reed and Pollard in addition to Peyton Manning’s possibly suspect arm strength might be just that. Reed has always had a heavy reputation with opposing quarterbacks. A disciplined Reed is an extra scary Reed for sure.
The Question(s): Even without Rob Gronkowski the Patriots will look to take the middle of the field using the tight ends. This is especially scary since Ray Lewis in coverage has left a bit to be desired. Who will the Ravens use to cover Aaron Hernandez, and whom will they use to deal with speedy Wes Welker in the flats?
Might Jimmy Smith make an appearance in the Ravens secondary again this week?
#4 – Snuck Up On Them
In addition to the simple motivation that comes from wanting to win a playoff game, the Ravens had plenty of bulletin board material to digest last week. Everywhere you turned someone was counting the Ravens out, and doing it big. The Broncos also couldn’t help but hear that chatter. With all of the talk of gloves and shoes and Brady vs. Manning leading up to last weeks’s game, it’s conceivable that the Broncos forgot that they had a game against the Ravens to take care of first. The Broncos also had, as a result of an undermanned Ravens team in a one-sided blowout, a false idea of who these Ravens were and what they were capable of. That and a bunch of useless game tape from that first match-up.
The Question: The Ravens won’t have the luxury of sneaking up on a Patriots team that knows all to well what these Ravens are capable of. How will they morph their attack to surprise New England on Sunday?
#5 – Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco continues to silence his critics with this post season run. Suddenly, when given a chance to watch games instead of just highlights, the nation is (slowly) taking notice of just what Flacco is capable of. Those who suggest that Flacco is earning money (in his extension) with this performance couldn’t be more off base, as it was already a foregone conclusion that the Ravens couldn’t just let him walk. His recent performances however give the team plenty of reasons to believe that their eggs are indeed in the right basket as they prepare to hammer out Flacco’s long-term future.
Flacco has also managed his interbnal clock better and taken advantage of his mobility in the pocket since Jim Caldwell has taken over the Ravens offense, perhaps adding his name right alongside Philip Rivers and Drew Brees as QBs who improved substantially after being removed from Cam Cameron’s tutelage.
The Question: In each of his first 4 playoff runs, the team that has beaten Flacco and the Ravens has gone on to the Super Bowl. Can Flacco break that string and put the Ravens in the big game himself?