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Ravens' key to beating Patriots' QB Tom Brady: four-man pass rush

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has put together impressive statistics over his 15-year NFL career, which will someday earn him induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This stat line, however, falls into a different category: 74 of 132 for 713 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions.

That is what Brady has produced in three playoff games against the Baltimore Ravens -- a 33-14 wild-card round loss after the 2009 season, a 23-20 victory in the AFC title game after the 2011 season and a 28-13 defeat in the AFC Championship Game the next year.

Even in victory, Brady hasn't been at his best against the Ravens in the postseason, as many in New England remember what he said in the on-field celebration after the one win.

As CBS' Jim Nantz praised Brady for becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to start five Super Bowls, then asked how the Patriots made it happen, Brady was direct in his response (which we'll clean up for the family audience).

"Well," he began, "I [stunk] pretty bad today. But our defense saved us."

Some might say Brady's postseason history against the Ravens will have little bearing on what unfolds Saturday in the divisional-round matchup, and that is true to a degree. But it should also be noted that Brady himself has revisited those games in recent days.

"It's the same coordinator, so a lot of the scheme stuff you see how he tried to defend us back then," he relayed. "I think the more information, the better."

That coordinator, of course, is Dean Pees. He has a long history with the Patriots from having served as their defensive coordinator from 2006-09 and linebackers coach from 2004-05. It's far from a stretch to say that provided valuable intelligence to the Ravens even as Pees himself downplayed that angle this week.

As for the "more information," we took a cue from Brady and reviewed those games, searching for any common threads that contributed to the un-Brady-like play. One that stands out: The Ravens have had success disrupting Brady with the standard four-man rush in the playoffs, allowing them to drop seven and sometimes eight into coverage.

In the game the Patriots won, Brady's first of two interceptions came on a four-man rush. Pressure off the edges hemmed him in the pocket, and he tried to fit the football into a tight window up the right seam to receiver Julian Edelman that was nicely played by cornerback Lardarius Webb. The second pick was an ill-advised deep ball to Matthew Slater against a three-man rush.

While those two plays obviously don't tell the whole story, another good example came the following year when a four-man rush pushed the pocket just enough and super-sized linebacker Pernell McPhee (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) powered into undersized center Ryan Wendell (6-2, 300) and tipped a pass over the middle that was intercepted.

So it came as no surprise that when ESPN's Stats & Information punched up numbers relating to Brady's postseason play against the Ravens, the data supported the idea that the four-man rush was the key. Against it, Brady has completed just 50.5 percent of his passes with all seven of his interceptions and a 15.9 QBR.

Meanwhile, when the Ravens brought pressure (defined as five or more rushers), Brady's numbers spiked to a 77.8 completion percentage, 89.1 QBR, with one touchdown and no interceptions. Brady aced pressure on 21.3 percent of dropbacks in the three playoff games against Baltimore.

"It's always a chess match. I think football is very much that way," Brady said. "We are doing one thing, they try to take it away, we make the adjustment and then they make the adjustment. It's probably a lot like great boxers that just go back and forth and back and forth. You test each other's will and you get the most out of your opponent."

The Ravens mostly have controlled the fight in the playoffs, keeping Brady on the ropes more than the norm. That doesn't mean it happens again Saturday, but as Brady said himself, it's a history worthy of revisiting.