An argument that’s bubbled throughout the week in favor of the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game centers around the pass rush, and their ability to create pressure, in addition to the Patriots’ lack of experience this year against teams that can collapse the pocket efficiently.
Both parts of that equation are true. New England has faced only four teams that ranked in the top ten throughout the regular season in sacks, and none of them were named the Baltimore Ravens, one of only four teams with more than 45 sacks.
That’s where the simple math ends, though, because while there’s a dip in Tom Brady’s numbers when he’s faced with increased pressure–and one that’s significant in some areas–that alone won’t be nearly enough to stop his record-breaking arm, but the pressure could restrict the New England’s ability to stretch the field with deep balls.
The Patriots offensive line is typically efficient, ranking in the top 10 this season after giving up 32 sacks. However, if the Ravens revert back to the explosive and agile Ravens we knew and loved/hated for most of the year, and finished just two shy of the league-leading Vikings and Eagles with their 48 sacks, a pressured Brady may not quite be the Brady we knew and loved/hated, despite the plethora of weapons at his disposal.
Terrell Suggs also needs to morph back into Terrell Suggs, regaining the 14-sack form he maintained for most of the season, and shedding his much slower alter-ego that flunked Ball So Hard University and has just one sack over his last four games.
Candies are often manufactured using a strict mixture of ifs and buts, and then they’re fed to the most disappointed children in the world, so there are no certainties for what’s become an inconsistent Ravens pass rush. But the 2011 season tells us that if Brady is looking up at the Foxborough sky, good things could happen for Baltimore.
The potential weakness for New England’s passing game was shown during the games when Brady was sacked three or more times, which happened in six games this year. Oddly, two of those games came against Kansas City and Buffalo, weak pass rushes that finished tied for 27th in sacks with 29 apiece.
To review, Brady’s overall numbers in addition to his record-breaking 5,235 passing yards were kind of good. That total yardage was spread out for an average of 327.2 per game, while he completed 65.6 percent of his passes, had a passer rating of 105.6, 39 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, and an average of 8.6 yards per attempt (the yards per game and attempt were the highest of his career).
Look at those numbers. Treat them like one of those mosaics I could never see, but GLS is not responsible for any eye damage as a result of being an unhealthy distance away from your computer screen. Then consider this next set of numbers for Brady during those six high-pressure games, numbers that are highly productive, but fall below the lofty, elite standards Brady set for himself this year:
- Yards per game: 280.6
- Yards per attempt: 7.9
- Passer rating: 98.9
Again, certainly not a cliff dive, but two of those numbers show sizable declines. Brady’s completion percentage stayed consistent during those games (64.5), which is vital, and the drop in his passer rating was minimal.
But his yards per game dropped by nearly 50 yards, while his yards per attempt fell by over half a yard, showing that stretching the field deep became difficult. That can partially be attributed to two of those games being blowouts, but the 49-21 Week 17 win over Buffalo was also Brady’s highest yardage game in our six-game sample (he threw for 338 yards). One of the other games was a loss to Pittsburgh in Week 8, and the margin of victory in the remaining three was 5.3.
The best counter attack against Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker is to either keep the ball in Brady’s hands, or force check downs, short passes, and throws that become singles or maybe doubles, but not home runs. So there’s hope for the Ravens and their pass rush powered by Suggs, but it’s of the faint and fleeting variety.