OWINGS MILLS – Left to his own devices, unflustered or even
worse untouched by pass rushers, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is
like kryptonite to even the mightiest defenses.
Sacked only 32 times during the regular season as New
England surrendered the ninth-fewest in the league, Brady piled up 5,235
passing yards, 39 touchdowns and was only intercepted a dozen times.
Given the luxury of time, Brady has the accuracy, the arm strength
and the talented targets to carve up a defense like a butcher.
“You have to pressure Brady,” Baltimore Ravens outside
linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “If you let him stand there, he’s going to kill
The Denver Broncos were his latest victim, falling 45-10 to
the Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff game as Brady delivered six touchdown
passes to tie a postseason record as he was only sacked once.
Now, Brady is the Ravens’ problem as they prepare for
Sunday’s AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.
And the Ravens’ pass rush been languishing lately with only
10 sacks in the past six games since a nine-sack performance during a Nov. 24
win over the San Francisco 49ers.
They recorded zero sacks against the Houston Texans during a
20-13 AFC divisional playoff win, no sacks in a Dec. 18 loss to the San Diego
Chargers and only three sacks in the past four games.
Although the Ravens finished third in the NFL with 48 sacks
for the season as Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs registered a
career-high 14 sacks with seven forced fumbles, they can’t afford to leave
“You’ve got to stop them,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
“You’ve got to find a way to stop them and control them, and you can’t just let
them go up and down the field on you. That’s true for any game.”
The Ravens will need to knock Brady down repeatedly and
prevent him from getting the football out of his hands, likely requiring some
creative blitz packages in order to contain Brady.
Brady has a bevy of receivers that includes: wide receiver
Wes Welker (122 catches, 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns) and tight ends Rob
Gronkowski (90 catches, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns and Aaron Hernandez (79
catches, 910 yards and seven touchdowns).
“How important is it to get pressure on the quarterback?”
Suggs said. “Well, you don’t want, particularly this guy, to get into a
seven-on-seven matchup with your defensive backs, especially when they have a
6-foot-12, 260-pound tight end [Gronkowski] that runs about a 4.5.
“You don’t want him back there just like, ‘Oh, we’re just
going to play catch today.’ You don’t want him to get in his zone. I think
pressure is going to be crucial, but it’s always crucial. Particularly, when
you are playing these type of quarterbacks, it’s pivotal.”
Suggs has one sack in the last four games and was shut out
against the Chargers and the Cleveland Browns.
For his career, though, he has traditionally fared well
against Patriots left offensive tackle Matt Light.
Suggs has 19 tackles in five games against the Patriots, a
sack in three consecutive games against them with two forced fumbles and one
Suggs’ forced fumble and recovery on a Brady sack led to a
Le’Ron McClain touchdown run during a 33-14 AFC wild-card playoff win over New
England two years ago.
And the Ravens will need to duplicate that success against
the Patriots again this week.
“That’s one of the big focuses, of course,” defensive end
Cory Redding said. “Stop the run, eliminate deep shots and get on the passer.
Especially with Tom Brady, you really have to get some pressure around him, get
him rattled a little bit, get him off the spot.”
The Patriots’ second-ranked offense is averaging 428 yards
per game, 317.8 through the air and 32.1 points per game.
New England has won nine consecutive games.
“If you watch SportsCenter, you’ve seen their offense,”
Johnson said. “They can hurt you in 100 different ways. They use their
personnel groups really well, whereas most teams, when they go two tight ends,
it’s usually a somewhat running formation or at least a balanced formation.
They can do anything.
“They can go in diesel, which is a two-tight end look, two
receivers and a back, and they can spread them all out and make them look like
five-wide and can be just as efficient if it was five-wide because their guys
are so athletic. It’s a big predicament for us. It’s a challenge, but it’s what
you like, because we can be a challenge, too.”