Ravens-Patriots: 3 key matchups

Ravens-Patriots: 3 key matchups
January 19, 2013, 9:45 am
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Much is being made of Joe Flacco vs. Tom Brady in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, but a quarterback matchup is always something of a misnomer. Flacco doesn't face Brady. He faces the Patriots defense, and likewise, Brady faces the Ravens defense.

Here, though, are three head-to-head matchups that are likely to occur and could play a major role in deciding which team heads to New Orleans for the Super Bowl:

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Patriots DL  Vince Wilfork

Wilfork was a one-man wrecking crew in the AFC Championship Game last year. He overpowered Birk, blew up the pocket and stuffed the Ravens rushing attack. Wilfork finished that game with six tackles, three for losses, and a sack. Led by Wilfork, the Patriots held Ray Rice to 67 yards on 21 carries in that game. One of Wilfork's biggest plays came late in the fourth quarter. With the Ravens facing third-and-3 at the Patriots 30, Rice was hammered by Wilfork for a 3-yard loss. That apparently took the Ravens out of field-goal range, because the Ravens went for the first down on fourth-and-6 from the 33 and threw incomplete. Look for guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele both to get involved in the task of double-teaming Wilfork.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Aqib Talib

One of the many underlying stories of the Ravens' win at Denver last week was the way Smith toyed with 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey. Smith blew by him routinely, scoring two touchdowns and missing on a third only because Joe Flacco overthrew Smith when he was two steps behind Bailey. Talib, a former first-round draft pick and midseason acquisition for the Patriots, has bolstered the Patriots secondary. He had the task of covering Texans receiver Andre Johnson last week, and this week he's likely to face Smith." If you’re a cornerback and you don’t want to go after their best receiver, you’re in the wrong business," Talib said.

Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker

Graham has developed into one of the Ravens' most important defensive players, and his two interceptions against the Broncos last week were two of the biggest plays in a game full of them. Graham figures to line up as a slot defender against Welker, whose role should only increase with Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski out with a broken arm. " He is a very quick guy. He catches the ball well," Graham said. "[Tom] 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.”