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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

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Patriots DBs wary of Ravens' long-ball potential

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots have cut down on the long completions they allowed early in the season. The Ravens keep making them.

On Sunday night, New England's progress will be tested against Baltimore's strong-armed Joe Flacco and his speedy receivers in the AFC championship game.

Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib saw just how dangerous the Ravens' deep passing attack can be in their 38-35, double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos in last Saturday's divisional playoff game.

``That game summed it up, man,'' he said. ``They started the game taking shots and they ended the game taking shots. So that's what you're going to do against guys like that, play that deep ball.''

On the Ravens' second series against the Broncos, Flacco threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. On their last series of regulation, he heaved a 70-yard score to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.

That was the Ravens' longest completion of a season in which Flacco keeps connecting with targets far downfield. He has completed passes to receivers 13 times on gains of 40 yards or more. The Patriots, meanwhile, had just five completions to receivers that picked up that distance - and two were caught by players now on injured reserve.

``We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ``The biggest thing is understanding how strong Flacco's arm is because I think we already know how fast some of the receivers are over there. So it's just being aware and making plays down the field.''

They Patriots (13-4) didn't do that very well in the first half of the season. They allowed 21 completions that gained at least 25 yards in their first eight games. A season-high five came in a 31-30 loss to the Ravens in Week 3.

They lowered that to 15 in their last eight regular-season games. Talib, who played in the last seven after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped.

``He's a good football player, good teammate,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``He's very well respected because of his professionalism. He studies hard and prepares well. He's tough. He competes well, both in practice and on Sundays. Smart kid. I like him. The team likes him. He's a good guy to be around.''

His addition allowed the Patriots to move McCourty from cornerback, where he struggled at times, to safety, where he's solidified the secondary.

But the Ravens (12-6) have hurt teams with the long ball all season - from their very first offensive play. That was a 52-yard completion from Flacco to Smith that started a 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals.

``One of (Smith's) biggest strengths is his speed,'' McCourty said. ``If you give him a step or two, it will turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is.''

Two weeks later against the Patriots, Smith caught passes of 38, 32 and 25 yards, Jones had receptions of a 41 and 24 yards and Anquan Boldin added a 24-yarder. And in the final minute, McCourty was penalized for defensive pass interference, moving the ball 27 yards to the Patriots 7-yard line. Two plays later, Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 31-30 win as time expired.

Flacco will be facing the Patriots for the third time in the postseason and sixth time overall. So he knows how Belichick likes to defend Baltimore's passing game.

``They're going to probably come up and put pressure on our receivers,'' Flacco said. ``They always, throughout the years, like to get up and not allow our tight ends and our inside guys to get off the ball very well and play over the top of the outside guys.

``We'll see if they match (cornerbacks) on Torrey or Anquan or anything like that. I think they've let up some yards in that area, but at the same time, they do a good job of playing very well and playing some man (coverage) underneath.''

As usual, Belichick is sure to change some defensive tactics and show Flacco something he hasn't seen from the Patriots.

Whatever that is, he'll still have Smith, Boldin and Jones to run under his deep throws.

``They have some great receivers over there, guys with speed,'' Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. ``Flacco has a big arm. He makes good decisions with the football. So they have the ability to beat you in many ways and, definitely, over the top is one of them.''

Flacco had 40 completions of at least 25 yards, tying Denver's Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL this season.

Smith caught six of at least 40 yards, Jones did it four times and Boldin three. Even the tight ends got into the act with Dennis Pitta scoring on a 61-yard pass play and Ed Dickson making a 40-yard snare.

So when Belichick was asked if the Ravens throw the ball deep as well as any team the Patriots have faced, he answered simply and quickly:

``Yes.''

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens exercise 2020 fifth-year option on 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Ravens exercise 2020 fifth-year option on 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could forget that the 2019 NFL Draft is just two days away.

Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Ravens have exercised the 2020 fifth-year option on LT Ronnie Stanley, according to a league source of ESPN's Field Yates. The Ravens' 2016 first round pick, Stanley has started 42 games in three seasons.

2. Part of the pre-NFL draft fun that goes on in the months leading up to the big weekend is re-drafting previous drafts. Bleacher Report's Chris Roling re-drafted the 2018 NFL Draft and have the Ravens selecting two completely different players.

Instead of TE Hayden Hurst at No. 25, Roling has the Ravens selecting TE Chris Herndon out of Miami.

"For the sake of value, the re-draft move is Miami's Chris Herndon," Roling said. "He slipped to the New York Jets in the fourth round yet put up 39 catches for 502 yards and four scores and is two-and-a-half years younger than Hurst."

And instead of QB Lamar Jackson, he has the Ravens picking LB Harold Landry out of Boston College.

"Landry, a second-round pick by Tennessee, flashed with 4.5 sacks over 15 games (three starts) as a rookie and earned a much bigger role heading into next season," Roling said. "He seems like a natural fit in a Baltimore front thanks to his ability to rush from all over the field, fitting a multiple look, and could produce in those spots freed up by players who left on the open market."

3. We knew who the Ravens would be facing in the preseason and when, but now we know what time. The Ravens' preseason matchups with the Jaguars, Packers, Eagles and Redskins will all take place at 7:30 p.m. ET. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: 

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

Baltimore Ravens Roundup: 20 prospects linked to Baltimore at No. 22

We've made in to NFL draft week. Here's the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The 2019 NFL Draft is Thursday night in Nashville, Tn. While the chances of pundits predicting each team's first-round pick accurately is about the same as picking the Powerball numbers, we can't seem to stop ourselves from looking at them. Here's a look at 20 prospects mocked to the Ravens at No. 22, courtesy of the Ravens' website.  


2. One of the many exciting parts of the NFL draft is waiting to hear which organizations trade forward or backwards to acquire a pick. Just last year, the Ravens traded back from their No. 16 pick several times to select Hayden Hurst at No. 25, before trading back into the first-round to pick Lamar Jackson at No. 32. But which trade in Ravens history was the most impactful? ESPN's Jamison Hensley selected the Ravens' trade for running back Jamal Lewis.


"In 1999, the Ravens traded their second-round pick (No. 43) for Atlanta's first-round pick in 2000, which they used to land running back Jamal Lewis," Hensley wrote. "The Falcons selected tight end Reggie Kelly, and the Ravens got what turned into the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Baltimore drafted Lewis, who carried the offense during the team's 2000 Super Bowl championship season and recorded the NFL's fifth 2,000-yard season in 2003."


3. As Marlon Humphrey enters his third year in the league, the cornerback will not only be expected to take on a leadership role within the Ravens' new look defense, but top his impressive sophomore season. In 2018, Humphrey contested 35% of targets thrown into his coverage marking the second-best rate in all the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. 


Looking Ahead:

April 25-27: 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tn.

May 3-6 or May 10-13: Potential three-day rookie mini camp

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player

The 2019 NFL schedule is set!  See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: