Joe Flacco threw the lights out of Mile High Stadium in last weeks upset of the Denver Broncos. Flacco is showing the amazingly strong arm he lauded coming out of college, and has combined it with better downfield accuracy. Flacco threw confidently downfield, with throws of 59 and 70 yards to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones against the Broncos. Against the Colts, Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a 50-yard completion downfield. Flacco has 613 yards and 5 touchdowns with zero interceptions in the playoffs, and is currently playing at the highest level of his career. Torrey Smith has been the NFL’s most targeted receiver downfield, and after exploding last week, look for the Patriots to assign outstanding corner Aquib Talib to Smith, hoping to reduce his impact.
That leaves rookie Alfonzo Denard and Kyle Arrington to cover Boldin, depending if he lines up in the slot. Boldin is an effective slot receiver, using his size and sure hands on short and intermediate routes. Teams have attacked the Patriots 29th ranked passing defense often at the safety position, targeting safeties Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty, the Patriots former Pro Bowl corner now converted to safety. McCourty showed a talent for intercepting passes in deep zone coverage as a corner in 2010, so the Patriots logically thought that talent would translate to safety. McCourty repaid their trust, leading the team with 5 interceptions in the regular season. With Jones and Smith threatening deep for the Ravens, McCourty’s talent for interceptions may be a critical element in this game. The Patriots may be in a pick your poison situation, dealing with Smith and Jacoby Jones downfield threats, Ray Rice coming out of the backfield, and tight end Dennis Pitta working the intermediate routes with Bolden.