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Dannell Ellerbe a key Ravens chess piece vs. Patriots

Television cameras will predictably and endlessly lock on Ray Lewis during Sunday's AFC title game, but there's a lesser known Baltimore Ravens linebacker set to play a major role against the New England Patriots.

Dannell Ellerbe has his work cut out for him against Tom Brady and an offense that loves to chop up defenses over the middle. The Patriots killed the Texans last weekend with short passes to its stable of backs, making mincemeat of Houston's inside linebackers. That was an obvious weak spot for the Texans with Brian Cushing out of the picture, but the Ravens should present a stiffer challenge.

Ellerbe arguably outplayed Lewis this season and he's enthusiastic to get another shot at New England.

"They're really tough matchups," Ellerbe told the team's official site. "But then again, I've had these matchups all year and played these guys a couple times. I pretty much know what to expect with these guys."

Ellerbe won't be the primary defender on slot wideout Wes Welker -- that responsibility will probably fall to cornerback Corey Graham -- but the linebacker could see plenty of Welker if he's sent across the middle. Said Ellerbe: "I see everybody. Everybody is coming across the middle and everybody is lining up in the slot."

The Ravens masterfully took away the deep ball against the Denver Broncos last weekend. That alone won't do the trick against Brady and the Patriots. Ellerbe will be front and center in Baltimore's attempt to shut down the run, squelch the short passing game, and do what the Texans couldn't a week ago.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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