ED REED MAY have been spot on when he stated this week that the Ravens offence needs to improve but Steven O’Rourke thinks it doesn’t help the team to have criticism coming from within.
AFC Championship Game
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
Sunday, 8pm (Irish time)
In an interview with the SIRIUS NFL radio station on Monday, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed echoed the feelings of many Ravens fans when he expressed his dissatisfaction with the performance of Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offence in their win over the Houston Texans.
Reed’s most damning indictment of Flacco was “it just didn’t look like he had a hold of the offence”. It’s true of course, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be said.
Flacco is, like a certain Denver quarterback, one of those players for whom the games won statistic masks a whole host of problems.
This season, for example, he is a perfect 7-0 against teams who made it to the playoffs. However, only twice in 2011 has he thrown more than two touchdowns in a game; week one against the Steelers and week three against the Rams, and in four games – all of which the Ravens won – he threw no touchdown passes at all.
Of course, when you’ve a weapon as potent as Ray Rice, you don’t need to score as often through the air but the fact remains, in a shoot-out, Joe Flacco is the last quarterback you turn to.
Well, maybe second last.
He’s also known as a quarterback who wins a lot of games in the postseason – the only QB to win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons – but has actually thrown more postseason interceptions (seven) than he has touchdowns (six).
This goes to show that the Ravens can win in spite of Flacco, rather than because of him, so Reed’s comments – designed I’m sure to motivate his quarterback – serve only as a distraction.
Instead Reed, and the rest of the brilliant Ravens defence, should be focusing their attention on how exactly they are going to stop Tom Brady and the free-scoring Patriots offence.
As highlighted already, it is unlikely Flacco – even with the help of Ray Rice – can keep up with the Patriots in a high-scoring game so Reed, Lewis and company will have to try and keep New England below 30 points.
If the Ravens defence can make a stand, and Rice can keep the Patriots offence off the field, Baltimore will win this game.
Like the 49ers last week, the key to beating a high-octane offence is time of possession. I can’t emphasise how important using Ray Rice as a clock eater will be for the Ravens.
In the four away games Baltimore lost this season, Rice had just 36 possessions, running for 155 yards and no touchdowns. In the four games the Ravens won, Rice had 80 carries for 519 yards and four touchdowns.
Verdict: Good defence should always beat good offence but, with Brady and Gronkowski in this sort of form, that rule goes out the window. If there are less than 45 points scored, Ravens win. Anything more and I can’t see past the Patriots.
NFC Championship Game
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 11.30pm (Irish time)
If the New York Giants go on to win Super Bowl XLVI they will be the worst team to ever become NFL champions.
That’s not my opinion, it’s a statistical fact.
No team in the Super Bowl era has won it all with a 9-7 regular season record. Two – the 1979 LA Rams and 2008 Arizona Cardinals – have come close, falling at the final hurdle.
However, that should take nothing away from the G-men’s achievements this year. They were the best team in a competitive NFC East and, last weekend, dominated the defending Super Bowl champions (themselves 15-1) away from home.
This Sunday though, they will face a very different type of defence than that offered up by the 32nd-ranked Green Bay Packers.
Sure, the 49ers haven’t been the most exciting team to watch this season – unless you like field goals – but, at 14-3, they’ve shown that good old fashioned defence still has a place in the NFL.
Many people think that the key to that defence has been stopping the run and it’s not difficult to see why. The 49ers gave up a paltry 77.2 yards a game and only conceded three rushing touchdowns (all on the road) during the course of the regular season.
However, the stats would seem to indicate that the pass rush is actually the most important part of the San Francisco defence. In their three losses this year, the 49ers had a total of just three sacks. In their 14 wins, they averaged three per game.
Despite a seven point victory over the Giants earlier this year, they only managed to get to Manning once in 41 pass attempts. Bear in mind, this is the same pass rush and secondary that allowed 462 yards and four touchdowns through the air last week.
While they still came out with a victory over the Saints, I’m not sure how they can repeat those heroics this weekend. Take Vernon Davis out of the game and the 49ers just don’t have a vertical threat.
Frank Gore might make a difference from the backfield; especially as many pundits are pointing out he left their regular season match-up early with an injury. However, Gore had six carries for exactly zero yards before he limped off so it’s difficult to see him being a game changer.
Decent defence by the Giants – probably a lot of Cover two / man under two deep – will ensure every 49er receiver is covered, four men are able to rush the passer on every attempt and there will be help over the top should Davis slip by his defender.
Verdict: The 49ers have home advantage and the knowledge they’ve already beaten the Giants this season but, while their regular season record might not be anything to boast about, the G-men have come out on top in five do-or-die games in a row. With that in mind, Brady and Belichick should get the chance to avenge their Super Bowl XLII defeat. Giants by 5+.
Steven O’Rourke is the offensive co-ordinator of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club, winners of the IAFL DV8s national title in 2010 and 2011. Tullamore are always recruiting new players so, if you’d like to play football and not just read about it, Steven would love to hear from you.