Stretching the Field: Ravens must bully Patriots WRs
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Talking trash and backing it up has to be a rewarding feeling on the football field, if that's part of your repertoire.
Asante Samuel has made a living of it and is chirping his way to the NFC Championship Game. Samuel's only weakness is that he's not physical enough.
When the AFC's version of Championship Sunday kicks off, the Baltimore Ravens hope they did enough during the week to convince starting cornerbacks Corey Graham and Cary Williams that bullying will be tolerated against the heavily favored New England Patriots.
Football is considered a game for barbarians, so why not play like one?
Some players thumb through media guides to see what makes other players tick, what college they attended or what round they were drafted. Want to get under someone's skin with a Midas touch? Start making digs on a player's mother, sister or wife. It's not the most ethical tactic, but it happens.
There is a memorable clip of Cris Carter taking an earful from a Chicago Bears defensive back, and the former Minnesota Vikings star receiver snapped back in a demanding tone, telling the defender to pray he can play as long as he is.
Patriots wide receivers Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd have spent plenty of years in the NFL and probably have heard every insult from "You're too slow," to "Your mamma's so dumb that ... ."
Graham and Williams, who finished tied with safety Ed Reed for the team lead in interceptions with four, may have their lips zipped when they stand across either one of the Pats' wideouts, and rest assured they will make their presence felt at the snap of the ball.
None of the Pats' top wideouts is above six feet or weigh more than 200 pounds. Then again, neither are Baltimore's two cornerbacks.
Jarring a receiver at the line of scrimmage, and within the legal five-yard zone, is the best way to get a quarterback out of his groove. Timing is everything for an offense that thrives on passing the football. Patriots future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady is one of just a few who can find a weakness in a defense and exploit it regularly. Making him unsettled in the pocket will diffuse that notion.
Cornerbacks know that if they get a receiver off his route, it will give the defensive line a chance to pad their stats. Quarterbacks usually need about two to three seconds to release the ball, so there's not much of a window to work with. If Graham stacks Welker in the slot and Williams muscles up with Branch on the outside, it leaves Brady with only a few targets left and they're dealing with linebackers and safeties. Hold on to the ball too long and a defensive end or tackle will dance a jig after a big play.
"I think it's huge on both sides ... our offensive line and defensive line against theirs," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "If we can create some pressure on (Tom) Brady, then it's definitely going to put pressure on (their) offense. Hopefully, we can do that and do that as much as we can, and (it's the) same thing with our offensive line."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes "every game is decided in the trenches" and by making plays. He said this week that whatever side wins the battle in the trenches has the best chance of advancing to the Super Bowl. Playing stingy on the corners is where it starts.
Harbaugh was asked if his defensive backfield will bring its physical intensity to Foxborough in a rematch of last year's AFC title game, which was won late by the hosting Patriots.
"We better have it in our minds. It's important to do things within the rules," Harbaugh said. "No different with the Patriots, they better have it in their minds. We will try to do things the right way."
In a 38-35 double-overtime win on the road at Denver last weekend, Graham picked off Broncos quarterback and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning twice and returned one interception 39 yards for a touchdown. He also had three passes defensed and it won't get any easier for Graham Sunday against another elite QB. Graham is in his first season with the Ravens after spending his first five with Chicago and has made the Ravens' defense even better.
"Corey knew that if he came in here and he earned the playing time, he would get it. And that's what's happened," Harbaugh said.
Graham can earn a trip to the Super Bowl, too, with another lock-down performance. Brady only threw for one touchdown and was not intercepted in the first meeting with Baltimore this season, a 31-30 triumph by the Ravens on Sept. 23. However, Lloyd and Welker combined for 250 yards receiving after Baltimore turned away the ground attack.
That could be the scenario Sunday unless New England's receiving threat has a difficult time establishing a rhythm against Baltimore's secondary.
01/16 11:30:00 ET