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Can Ravens shut down Patriots' up-tempo offense?


Late in the Baltimore Ravens' double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos, Twitter came to life with Ed Reed jokes.

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The Ravens safety was unusually quiet against the Broncos. Gone were his drive-crushing interceptions and run-stuffing hits. People began to ask, "Where the heck is Ed Reed?"

Baltimore's defense isn't what it once was, but with Reed dropping deep into center field, it took away the long ball and forced Denver quarterback Peyton Manning to throw short, precision passes. The Broncos never broke loose, and coach John Fox took plenty of heat afterward for his perceived conservative approach to a high-stakes affair. We now know what Reed and the Ravens were up to, but that game plan won't be as successful in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.

The Patriots' offense is well-constructed to use short and intermediate spaces to pick a defense apart. Tom Brady's near-psychic connection with Wes Welker doesn't hurt.

"He can do it all," Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said of Welker, via The Baltimore Sun. "Everybody saw the game last week. I believe in the first half he had 100-some yards receiving. He is a very quick guy. He catches the ball well. Brady is looking for him a lot, and he makes a lot of guys miss with fakes and things like that, so he is a complete receiver. I have my hands full in the slot, but I am up to the challenge."

New England's up-tempo offense led the NFL with 1,191 plays from scrimmage, which equates to 74.4 per game. That figure includes early-season games before Bill Belichick implemented elements of Chip Kelly's rapid-style attack, which the Patriots still employ but not exclusively.

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Patriots teams of old struggled to run the football in a dominating way, but this season's team finished second in the NFL with 523 attempts for 2,184 yards and 25 touchdowns. The ground game is just one facet of a New England offense that has evolved and changed since falling to Baltimore back in Week 3. Belichick's teams change weekly, especially against a second-time opponent.

If the Patriots can run 90-plus plays, they can control this game. Baltimore must find a way to disrupt New England's rhythm, take away the ground game and put Brady into unfavorable third-down situations. As always with the Patriots, that is easier said than done.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.


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