Ravens' pass rush to zero in on Tom Brady
If Tom Brady believes the Ravens are going to let him sit back in the pocket and pick them apart all day - as New England did to the Broncos did last week - he has another thing coming.
Sunday's AFC Championship Game (3 p.m. on CBS) is going to be a far different contest than was the top-seeded Patriots' 45-10 trouncing of a Broncos team that barely made the playoffs. The Ravens have a much better pass rush and better linebackers overall than the Broncos.
In other words, they're no pushovers.
Here are three things to watch.
RAVENS PASS RUSH
Brady better account for 330-pound defensive end Haloti Ngata, who forced a fumble against the Texans last week. Ngata can put a hurt on quarterbacks and running backs alike. Passing-wise, Brady should be ready to check down to find either Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis out of the backfield or the rough-and-ready tight end Rob Gronkowski, who will undoubtedly draw the ever-dangerous and equally physical Ed Reed in coverage. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis could be a frequent visitor to Brady's backfield.
New England had the 31st-worst pass defense in the league this year,but the way Joe Flacco's been playing, it may not matter. He's having Tim Tebow-like trouble with his accuracy. But if he can get the ball consistently to Anquan Boldin and dangerous running back Ray Rice, the ground game of Rice, Ricky Williams, and fullback Vonta Leach could keep a tough New England pass rush honest.
The Ravens' Billy Cundiff versus the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski?
No contest: It's Gostkowski all the way.
The 28-year-old Gostkowski kicked at least one field goal in every game this year - quite a feat, considering the Pats usually finished scoring drives in the end zone. Cundiff can hit from long range, but Gostkowski was 10-of-13 this year (35-of-50 lifetime) from 40 yards and out. Cundiff was 8-for-17 from the same distance, but was 1-for- 6 from 50 and out.