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Flacco to face far different Patriots' secondary

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By Kevin Fishbain

Joe Flacco threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots in a 31-30 Week Three win. It was his season-high in passing, and the most the Patriots gave up in a game all year — which says something, since New England had the league’s 29th-ranked passing defense. 

Flacco has thrown for 613 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two playoff games this season. His clutch throws on Saturday, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, propelled the Ravens to the AFC title game.

It’s no secret that the Patriots’ biggest vulnerability this season — as it has been for the past two — is the pass defense. Their ability to put up points on offense and create turnovers on defense usually offsets it, but looking at those numbers, Flacco could have quite the edge on Sunday as Baltimore primes itself for an upset.

In these rematch situations, the Ravens would naturally look at what worked vs. New England in Week Three, and the Patriots would turn on the film to see what didn’t work.

One problem — the secondary that the Patriots will trot out on Sunday is completely different than what Flacco faced in September. Not only that, but Flacco’s big plays came against coverages that he likely won’t see on Sunday.

Advantage: Patriots.

In Week Three, New England started Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington at corner, and Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung at safety. Here’s a look at six of the Ravens’ biggest passing plays from that win, and where the breakdown occurred for New England.

Second quarter

  • Flacco hits Torrey Smith for a 25-yard touchdown — Smith beat Arrington one-on-one and made a nice grab in the endzone.
  • Flacco finds Jacoby Jones for a 41-yard catch-and-run over the middle — this one appeared to be a miscommunication. Arrington had the initial coverage, Chung went with Gregory to cover Anquan Boldin on a deeper route, leaving the middle open for Jones, with Arrington late to recover.

Third quarter

  • Flacco to Smith for 32 yards — Gregory was the single-high safety on this play, where Smith beat McCourty on a simple skinny post, catching the pass several yards in front of Gregory.
  • Flacco to Smith for 38 yards — Chung showed blitz pre-snap before retreating to safety, but he was still too late on Flacco’s sideline throw to Smith, who beat Sterling Moore. Moore now plays for the Cowboys.

Fourth quarter

  • Flacco to Boldin for 24 yards — Arrington had man coverage on Boldin, who dragged across the field and made a solid catch on a perfect throw from Flacco.
  • Flacco targets Jones near the endzone, McCourty called for pass interference — Jones had McCourty beat with 52 seconds left. A perfectly-thrown ball, and that’s a touchdown. Instead, Flacco underthrew it, and McCourty had no choice but to interfere. That led to the Ravens’ game-winning field goal.

Two of the Ravens’ other deep passing plays in that game came against corners who won’t be in those situations on Sunday, McCourty and Moore. 

On Sunday, Flacco will face CBs Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, with McCourty shifted to safety alongside Gregory and Arrington moved to slot corner. Talib wasn't on the Patriots' roster in Week Three and Dennard was inactive, but it's those two that are expected to man up Smith and Boldin.

This group has fared better vs. the pass, helped by Talib’s ability to stick to opposing receivers and McCourty’s range and ball-hawking skills in the back end. Dennard has been a pleasant surprise, coming on strong in his rookie season.

Flacco is playing some of his best football, and he may very well find success against the Patriots on Sunday, especially with his arsenal of receivers, but Bill Belichick's group gains a slight edge in pre-game prep. They know the Ravens' personnel and have a better idea of what to expect, as opposed to Flacco and his receivers, who will face completely different looks than they saw in Week Three, and we'll see if that proves to be a boost for New England to get to the Super Bowl.

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