1. Ray Rice vs. Patriots run defense
Rice was the last runner to go over 100 yards against the Patriots. He rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in Baltimore's 31-30 win in Week 3. Led by massive defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, New England has been stout against the run, ranking sixth in yards per carry (3.9) and ninth overall (101.9). With backup RB Bernard Pierce dealing with a knee injury, Rice is in for another heavy workload Sunday after carrying 30 times for 131 yards and a score in Denver. He and Pierce have combined for 316 rushing yards in two playoff games. The revamped offensive line, led by All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, is creating running lanes. If Rice has similar success Sunday, Baltimore is likely headed to the Super Bowl.
2. What does FS Ed Reed have left?
Bill Belichick overflows in his praise of Reed. “He just does things that nobody else at that position does or I don't know if they've ever done it,” Belichick told WEEI radio. “He's special. He's really special.”
There's no denying what Reed used to be. Now? Pro Football Focus rated him the 60th best safety this season. Last week at Denver, he reacted slowly and didn't break up any of Peyton Manning's 43 passes, according to the Baltimore Sun. Reed, 34, did have four interceptions, recover three fumbles, defend 16 passes and make 58 tackles in the regular season. With the secondary likely to be under siege Sunday, the Ravens need Reed to make one or two of his signature big plays.
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3. Pressuring Tom Brady
Brady is 5-2 all-time against the Ravens, but he has a 74.1 passer rating in those games. More than most teams, Baltimore disrupts his rhythm. “There's tight coverage, there's tight throws, there's tough reads because schematically they do quite a few things," Brady told WEEI. "It's never easy. There's not an easy throw, there won't be an easy throw this weekend."
Terrell Suggs, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata must get in Brady's face or else the Pats will march down the field with precision. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe also could be used as a pass rusher. In 104 pass rushes this season, he has five sacks, five QB hits and 12 hurries.
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