The matchup between New England and Baltimore will now repeat itself for the fifth time since 2011. The rosters are different, but the competition between Flacco-Harbaugh verses Brady-Belichick has become quite the rivalry with both teams 2-2 since 2011 in both the regular season and playoff games. So, here comes the rubber match and, with that, my ‘rubber matchup.’
The last meeting between these two teams didn’t fare well for a Ravens team that was slightly rebuilding after losing some key pieces in 2013 – they lost 41-7. That may seem like a blowout, but the score was aided by 4 turnovers from Baltimore and the statistics show a much more evenly matched game than the final score would suggest.
Brandon Browner on Steve Smith:
A key matchup to watch will rest solely on this rebuilt defense of New England. The rebuilt secondary has played well with Brandon Browner on one side and Revis on the other. Revis generally takes away the opponents best offensive option, but this week you may see something different. Statistically, Steve Smith had the best year of the wide recieving core in Baltimore, but he may be Browner’s best matchup.
I’ve heard most experts initial thought of Steve Smith being covered by Darrelle Revis and that matchup is fine with me for Revis, but Brandon Browner would excel for two reasons against Steve Smith over Torrey Smith.
Steve Smith is 35 years old, or heading downhill in receiver years. He’s a veteran guy that knows some tricks to get open, but with that wisdom came a toll on the body. He’s not as quick, or as fast as he used to be. I like him as a wide receiver and I’d take him in a second, but let’s not overrate him.
Smith had a nice game last week against the number 27th ranked pass defense in yards against Pittsburgh and that’s all Smith’s stats were – yards. He got no touchdowns.
Smith’s last two playoff games with Carolina in 2008 and 2013 resulted in 6 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Both games resulted in a loss and though you can’t pin a loss on a receiver, you can attribute certain wins to exceptional performances by a receiver for example Rob Gronkowski in multiple games this season. He’s not exceptional in the playoffs, unless you let him get in your head.
Speaking of getting in heads, I think Browner is on Steve Smith’s level in that category. Browner loves instigating, physicality and rough play as does Steve Smith and that could be a fun little aspect to watch.
“I like to play hard, regular season or postseason,” Browner said. “That’s just my makeup, I guess. I like to go hard regardless. If we were in the park in the offseason, I’d try to bust your butt.”
Playing hard is another way to say he plays rough and he plays rougher than Revis. That style leads to more penalties for Browner, but Steve Smith has a reputation for flags as well and, I think as a result, the flags will be a little further down in the referees pockets. I actually like the idea of giving Steve Smith a taste of his own medicine and see how he handles it.
Smith has a history of fighting opponents, teammates, you name it. He even got into it with Talib last season if you remember, but I like the 6’4, 221 pound Browner over a 5’9, 195 pound Steve Smith any day.
So, how has Belichick fared against Smith in the past? Steve Smith has played Belichick a total of four times starting his rookie season (2005, 2009, 2013) and has 13 receptions with 215 yards and a touchdown. For Smith being the Panthers best option in three of those games, that’s not bad on Belichick’s part.
The Patriots built a secondary specifically for the playoffs. Tough-minded Brandon Browner and skilled Darrelle Revis. The world knows what to expect form Revis, the best cornerback in football, but how the Patriots use Browner is going to be interesting to watch.