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If the Patriots are to beat the Ravens on Sunday and advance to the Super Bowl, they will need to up the ante when it comes to being physical, which means outdoing their divisional-round performance against the Broncos.
In that game, the Pats dominated on both sides of the ball. Getting MLB Brandon Spikes was a big help on defense, and the front seven manhandled the Broncos' rushing attack, stopping 14 plays for negative yards. They will need that same kind of tenacity this weekend to slow down Ray Rice.
On offense, the O-line kept the Broncos' pass rush of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller at bay, and it's a certainty that the Ravens will bring plenty of pressure after Tom Brady on Sunday.
The physical theme goes down the line, from linemen to receivers. The Ravens are known as one of the tougher teams in the league, and the Patriots know full well what they are up against.
In last year's regular-season meeting, the Patriots eked out a 23-20 overtime win. "It was a really hard-fought game going back and forth for 70 minutes," head coach Bill Belichick said the Monday after the win.
Baltimore's Ray Lewis and Ed Reed know how to lay the lumber and have been doing it for years. The Patriots' ballcarriers will need to take extra care of the football. Earlier in the season, opponents looked to strip TE Aaron Hernandez, who does have one lost fumble this season. Rookie RB Stevan Ridley lost a fumble in the win over the Broncos, but RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has never fumbled in his NFL career.
The Patriots' offensive line will need to match blow-for-blow with Terrell Suggs, who had seven forced fumbles and 14 sacks during the season.
The Pats aren't necessarily known as a physical team like the Ravens or Steelers — that will happen when you have one of the league's worst defenses. But they have the ability to win the type of grind-it-out game the Ravens may want to play, as they showed in one possession in their first meeting with the Jets this season. With a 21-17 lead in the fourth quarter, the Patriots ran the ball down the Jets' throats and ate up over six minutes of clock, ending in a field goal that put the game out of reach.
Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung will lead the charge on defense in an effort to out-physical the Ravens. If the Pats can survive, the players will feel better, knowing they have an extra week of rest before the Super Bowl.