Ravens' three keys to beating Patriots

Here are three keys to the Baltimore Ravens beating the New England Patriots on Sunday:

1. Running game has to step up: Joe Flacco is wearing a knee brace, and the Patriots have the second-worst run defense in the NFL. These factors make it clear: Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce have to step up their games. The Ravens' running game has been much maligned, but Rice has been good enough to beat up the bad run defenses. His best game of the season came against the Chicago Bears, the NFL's worst run defense. Rice gained 131 yards rushing against the Bears, the only time this season he has surpassed 75 yards in a game. And, even though Rice is dealing with a thigh injury, he has produced over 50 yards in back-to-back games for the first time this season. With Flacco nursing an injury, the Ravens don't want him dropping back 35 times and increasing the chances of him getting hurt worse. The preferred course of action is Flacco handing the ball off.

2. Stay physical in secondary: Rookie safety Matt Elam made headlines when he called Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson "pretty old." What many overlooked was Elam saying the Ravens were going to be physical against him. That was the game plan for all of the Lions' receivers, who paid a price every time they caught the ball against Baltimore's defensive backs. It worked against the bigger and taller Lions receivers, and it could have a bigger effect against the likes of Julian Edelman (5-foot-10, 198 pounds) and Danny Amendola (5-11, 195).

3. Stay hot in the red zone: I'm sure you're thinking I made a mistake typing. The Ravens rank 29th in the NFL in red-zone offense. Only the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars are worse inside the 20-yard line than Baltimore. But the Ravens have been nearly perfect in the red zone their past two games against the Patriots. The Ravens have scored touchdowns on six of their seven red-zone possessions against New England, including all four trips in the AFC Championship Game. Stopping teams inside the 20 hasn't been a strength of the Patriots this season. New England ranks 21st in red-zone defense.