Aqib Talib looks to stymie Joe Flacco, Ravens’ quick-strike passing attack
|01.16.13 at 8:02 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Few teams go deep more than the Ravens.
Behind quarterback Joe Flacco, Baltimore was one of the best teams in the league this season when it came to completed passes of 20 yards or more (60, good for fifth in the league). Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was ninth in the league with 17 receptions of 20 yards or more, while fellow receiver Torrey Smith had 15 receptions of 20 yards or more. (Flacco was also third in the league when it came to pass plays of 40 or more yards with 12.)
That means it’s likely going to be a busy week for Aqib Talib. The top New England cornerback knows that the Ravens are going to take their shots downfield on the Patriots, particularly in the wake of Baltimore’s divisional playoff win over the Broncos where they went deep frequently — according to Elias Sports Bureau, Flacco completed four passes of 20 yards or more against Denver. In all, Flacco was 4-for-7 on throws of 20 yards or more vs. the Broncos, with each of his three touchdown passes going at least 30 yards (59, 32, and 70 yards).
“It’s a big job this week to try and prevent that deep ball. They’re on the same page right now with Flacco. We have a lot of work to do this week,” said Talib. “They definitely take more shots than teams I have played against. Every game, they’re going to take their shots down the field.”
In the September matchup between the two teams, the Ravens were able to hit the Patriots for eight pass plays of 20 yards or more. However, that was before the Patriots acquired Talib. Since then, the Patriots’ defense has managed to clamp down defensively in almost every major category — prior to Talib’s first game in New England, the Patriots had allowed an average of 285 passing yards per game and 382 total yards per game, as well as an average of 22.3 points per game.
In the final seven regular-season games, New England went 6-1, and Talib, who has played in six of those games, has done his part to bring those numbers down: The Patriots ended the regular season allowing an average of 271 passing yards per game (an average decrease of 14 yards per game) and 373 total yards per game (an improvement of nine yards per game). In addition, the points per game dropped to 20.7.
And when it comes to working on the deep ball, in the nine games New England played without Talib, it gave up 49 passes of 20 or more yards, 15 of 30 or more. In the seven games since, the Patriots have give up only 25 passes of 20 or more yards, and only seven of 30-plus.
Not all of that is because of Talib, but it’s not completely coincidental either.
“Obviously, it’s great to get another veteran player on the back end, someone that has some excellent experience in the NFL and can really fit in the younger group and kind of really just blend into the guys that we have and fit the pieces,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.
“(Talib) has done a real good job, really coming in and adapting to our system, learning the defense as we run it and the different coverages that we play and overall just been an excellent teammate really, kind of a guy that the other guys fit in with and get along with and obviously then compete and play hard with.”
“He’s a good football player, good teammate [and] he’s very well respected because of his professionalism,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick when asked about Talib on Wednesday. “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, and he works hard and competes well. I think those are his most impressive qualities.”
“When you’re little and you are thinking about being in the NFL, you think about being in this situation,” Talib said when asked about what it’s like to experience his most recent run of success with the Patriots. “It’s ideal for me. This is real football; you come here and you know you are going to play real football.”
Playoff football is all new to Talib — the former Buc made his first postseason appearance against the Texans last Sunday, and said Wednesday he can’t wait to see what the rest of the playoffs are going to be like.
“It is the next big game — all of them are big now,” he said. “The more you play, the bigger they get. It is the next big game.”