Today's matchup focuses on the Ravens passing game and how the Patriots might defend it. For many teams there are specific matchups that seem to make sense regarding how Bill Belichick will go about utilizing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but Baltimore's tandem of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith is not one of them.
Arguments could be made for the individual matchups both ways. Steve Smith is a smaller, physical receiver who can beat you deep but is more of an underneath target at this advanced stage of his career. He enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts in his first season in Baltimore, catching 79 passes for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns, and he remains as competitive as any receiver in the game.
"It brings the best out of you when you play guys like Steve Smith," was Browner's response when asked what it was like competing against Smith.
Torrey Smith is a different type of player. He's bigger at 6-1 but he's also faster and represents the more dangerous threat in terms of the deep ball and in the red zone. Eleven of his 49 catches went for touchdowns and he averaged nearly 16 yards per catch on the season.
Again, arguments could be made in support of having Revis or Browner lock up with either one. Being the more effective cover man, Revis could take the more dangerous target in Torrey Smith and allow the more physical corner, Browner, to lock horns with Steve Smith.
Browner and Steve Smith are quite comfortable playing in that style and it would not be hard to imagine those two getting tangled up before, during and after the whistle throughout the evening. Meanwhile, Revis has been nearly flawless this season preventing the types of big plays Torrey Smith is known for, so that matchup would seem to be safer for the Patriots.
However, word out of Baltimore would suggest the Ravens are expecting the opposite. Torrey Smith said he expected to see plenty of Browner while Steve Smith said the same of Revis. So, predicting exactly how Belichick will dictate these matchups may not be a wise course of action.
In any event, the Patriots will need to control both Smiths in order to shut down the Ravens passing game.Joe Flacco is capable of getting into a rhythm, as he has recently during his 5-0 stretch in the postseason over the past couple of years. But he's also not as effective when his first and second reads are taken away, and tight coverage from Revis and Browner will force Flacco to pull the ball down and look elsewhere.
That's when the Ravens quarterback generally makes his mistakes, and it's something the Patriots secondary has been effective doing all year. And unlike some of New England's other opponents, Baltimore doesn't have a lot of secondary options to turn to in the passing game. Flacco used tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett, but otherwise it's all about the Smith Bros. (Disclaimer: They're not actually brothers!!).
The matchups between the top corners and receivers will be huge on Saturday, and given the play of Revis and Browner all season it's tough to bet against them.