Earlier today, we broke down Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and surmized that in order to beat him, the Patriots would need to contain him in the pocket, while applying consistent pressure. Let's dig a little deeper.
In order to stop Flacco, the Patriots will need to apply consistent pressure - but only with their front four. As it turns out, Joe Flacco is one of the very best in the league against the blitz. In 2011, Flacco completed 50.8% of his passes for 1351 yards (6.8 YPA), threw eight touchdowns, and had only one interception. When not blitzed, Flacco's completion percentage rose to 60.8%, but he threw 16 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. So far in 2012, Flacco has completed over 66% of his passes against the blitz, for three touchdowns and no interceptions - good for a 134.3 quarterback rating. When not blitzed? Flacco has just a 71.3 quarterback rating, hasn't thrown a touchdown, and has thrown an interception.
While the 2012 sample size is small, the trend is evident ever since he entered the league out of Delaware in 2008: when you bring extra defenders, it doesn't deter or confuse Flacco. The way to get to Flacco is by keeping extra defenders back in coverage, and waiting for him to make a mistake with the football.
All of this makes the pass rush generated by the front four all the more important. The Patriots won't want to get too creative with their blitz packages, because Flacco will take advantage of one on one coverage in the secondary. Like all quarterbacks, however, Flacco will struggle when faced with significant pressure. What does that mean? The Patriots will have to rely on Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Vince Wilfork, and Kyle Love to generate pressure on their own. If the Patriots can win the battle up front, while dropping extra defenders into coverage, they should be able to limit the Ravens' passing attack, and hopefully force him into mistakes.
Of course, we haven't even accounted for Ray Rice and the Ravens' dynamic running game, and what the play action could do for Flacco. But from a basic standpoint, if the Patriots can generate a rush with their front four, have extra defensive backs on the field, and avoid using the blitz, they should be able to limit Joe Flacco's downfield passing proficiency, and hopefully halt the Ravens passing attack.