There's a big three for the Ravens passing offense that consists of wide receivers Steve Smith Sr., Torrey Smith, and tight end Owen Daniels that have been on the receiving end of nearly 60% of Baltimore's passing yards. If the Patriots can stop those three, then New England has a much larger chance of victory.
So how have they fared in the past?
Tight end Daniels has moved to Baltimore after a quality career for the Houston Texans. He played the Patriots three times, twice in the regular season (2006, 2012) and once in the post season (2012). Over the three games, he's combined for 21 targets, resulting in 12 receptions (57%), 114 yards and 0 touchdowns. Of course, 15 targets, 9 receptions, and 81 yards all came in the playoff game (albeit 5 targets, 4 receptions, and 51 yards came with the Texans down three scores halfway through the 4th quarter), so his utilization will be important to watch.
In the 2012 games, the Patriots covered Daniels with their strong safeties (Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson) and their inside linebackers (Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes). Daniels thrives in offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense by taking advantage of quick throws on blitzing passing lanes, as well as having the option to shift to the open field against zone coverage. Daniels can take over a game, so look for the Patriots to mix up their coverage with man and bracket defense. This looks to be a Pat Chung type of match-up, but I believe Brandon Browner might be a fit as well.
Steve Smith has lined up against the starting cornerbacks of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner four times. He's seen Revis and the Jets in 2009, Browner and the Seahawks in 2012, and then played in the same division as Revis in 2013. All of the following numbers are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Against Revis on the Jets, Smith was 1/6 for 5 yards, to go with 2 interceptions and an additional pass defended. Against Revis on the Buccaneers, Smith was 1/4 for 16 yards, with all three incompletions as passes defended by Revis. In total, that's 2/10 for 21 yards, 2 interceptions, and 4 passes defended.
Against Browner on the Seahawks, Smith was 3/7 for 33 yards and 1 pass defended.
These were two separate strategies at play, due to Revis trailing Smith in his match-ups, while Browner stayed on one side of the field while on the Seahawks. Regardless, it seemed as if both defensive backs were up to the task for these games. While keeping Revis on Steve Smith still makes the most sense, the Patriots will have some flexibility to mix up coverage looks.
When Torrey Smith was a rookie, he played both Revis and Browner in his only match-ups against the defenders. Against Revis, in Smith's fourth game as a pro, the wide receiver earned one target, which was incomplete. Smith's 10th game in the league came against Seattle, where Browner knocked away both of the targets in their direction. Combined, Smith received 3 targets, for 0 receptions and 2 passes defended.
Of course, he was a rookie and things have certainly changed.
While I still believe that lining up Kyle Arrington against Torrey Smith, with safety help over the top, makes a lot of sense, perhaps keeping Browner and Revis on the outside to cover the Smiths, while using linebacker and safety bracket coverage against Daniels makes the most sense.
The key players on the Patriots defense have had success in these match-ups in the past, so no matter what pairings the coaches the decide, there will be a chance for the defense to succeed.