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The Baltimore Ravens (9-7) come to Foxboro on Sunday to take on the AFC East Champion New England Patriots (10-6) in an intriguing Wild Card showdown.
There will be many important match-ups in this game, but for the sake of time and space, I’m going to focus on the one match-up I think will have the greatest affect on the outcome: Ray Rice vs. Jerod Mayo. How will two second-year players have that great affect on the game? What about Tom Brady? Ray Lewis?
|Birth Date||January 22, 1987||Age||22|
|Birth Place||New Rochelle, NY||Position||RB|
In just his second season in the NFL, Ray Rice cracked the 1,000-yard mark and was selected to the Pro Bowl. Rice has been a nightmare for opposing defenses all year long. What makes Rice so dangerous is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, especially on third down. The Ravens tailback had an impressive 702 yards receiving (tops among NFL running backs) to go along with his 1,339 yards rushing in 2009. Rice, after accounting for over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, should be put pretty high on Fantasy draft boards next Fall.
|Birth Date||February 23, 1986||Age||23|
|Birth Place||Hampton, VA||Position||LB|
Like Rice, Jerod Mayo is only in his second year in the NFL, but already, the 2008 first-round draft pick has become the leader of the Patriot’s defense. Mayo missed three games early in the season, and still managed to lead the team with over 100 tackles, 15 of those tackles came in an outstanding performance against Jacksonville in Week 16. Mayo will see his first postseason action on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if he will be able to elevate the level of his play to match the intensity of playoff football.
It’s almost impossible for a linebacker to cover Ray Rice when he slips out of the backfield on third down. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco uses Rice as a security blanket when faced with pressure on third down. If Mayo doesn’t shadow Rice closely, the talented back could easily turn a dump off pass from Flacco into a huge gain. I watched Rice do it to Steelers linebacker James Farrior in December, and I’m sure Mayo saw it several times in film sessions this week. I expect Bill Belichick will have Mayo spy on Rice on third down while Gary Guyton and Tully Banta-Cain try to put pressure on Flacco.
The Ravens also like to sprinkle Rice in with runs on first and second down. Mayo is going to have to be very physical and make adjustments against the Ravens three-headed monster (Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice). At 260 pounds, McClain provides the thunder, and McGahee is a very powerful runner himself. Mayo needs to be ready for the lightning when Ray Rice comes into the game. He moves very well for a 245-pound linebacker, one of the major reasons why the Patriots took him in the first round out of Tennessee in 2008. At 5-foot-8 and 210 lbs., Rice is extremely powerful and breaks a lot of tackles once he gets to the second level of a defense. Therefore, gap discipline and fundamentally sound tackling will be at the top of Mayo’s list of things to do on Sunday. It should be a lot of fun watching these two young talented players go at it, and it sounds like Mayo is up for the challenge.
“The sense of urgency is there,” Mayo said. “We all know what we had to do. We go out there and perform each and every week.”