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Key matchup: Ravens pass rush vs. Patriots O-line

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By Kevin Fishbain

Teams that have bested the Patriots this year have rattled Tom Brady enough to keep the offense out of rhythm. The Ravens will try to do that on Sunday night.

Ravens pass rush vs. Patriots O-line

New England has been able to steamroll teams, most recently thrashing the Texans 41-28, thanks to a balanced, up-tempo, extremely efficient offense. The Patriots can run the ball this year and Brady is still Brady, even without TE Rob Gronkowski.

The Ravens did slow the Patriots’ run game in a Week Three win, but Brady threw for 335 yards, getting New England to 30 points. Baltimore tallied two sacks and six QB hits in that one.

One sack came on 3rd-and-14 in the first quarter, and fault cannot go on the O-line. Courtney Upshaw had beaten ORT Sebastian Vollmer, but this was a coverage sack by Dannell Ellerbe, who shot up the middle and got past C Ryan Wendell.

On the second sack, Haloti Ngata beat Dan Connolly and Ellerbe blitzed untouched off the left edge to share the sack.

Vollmer and OLT Nate Solder have played well this season, keeping Brady clean. Brady is not mobile, but has great footwork to avoid a sack. He likes to stay in the pocket and throw quickly, though, and the Ravens' edge rushers will do their best to beat Vollmer and Solder at the snap. Paul Kruger has had a solid playoffs thus far and Terrell Suggs remains difficult to block. The interior O-line will have to contend with Ngata and at times, Ellerbe, who has also played well this postseason.

They may be unknown, outside Logan Mankins, but the Patriots’ interior O-line is impressive, and teams love to get penetration up the middle to keep Brady from stepping up.

The Ravens have plenty of pass-rush options, but may avoid blitzing often, as to not leave the secondary — a group that has been without top corner Lardarius Webb — out to dry

In four losses this season, the Patriots’ group up front has been tossed around, allowing 10 sacks and 24 hits on Brady — 2½ sacks and six QB hits a game. In the team’s 12 wins, Brady was sacked 17 times, 1.4 times a game.

That’s one of the reasons the Patriots’ rushing attack this season has been crucial, as it has kept edge rushers at bay. The up-tempo offense also keeps opposing defenses off-guard, allowing O-linemen to win at the point of attack against sometimes unbalanced, unready defenders.

Sacks are obviously drive killers, and for the Patriots, they are also rhythm crushers, keeping the no-huddle attack from being effective. The Ravens have the defensive schemes and personnel to wreak havoc, but the question will be, can they get to Brady in time against an O-line that, for the most part, has performed very well this season.

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